Military Veteran Entrepreneurs

As soon as I learned about Bunker Labs’ mission from Andrew Schwab at the First Flight Venture Center in Research Triangle Park, I made it a priority to get to know them, eager to offer my assistance.

Bunker Labs is the Chicago-based national service organization founded and built by former active duty military to help other veterans become entrepreneurs: 250,000 men and women from all branches of military service are scheduled to muster out each of the next 4 years, and 25% are interested in starting their own ventures, so Bunker Labs has a big job ahead of them.

veterans twice as likely

Founded barely two years ago, Bunker Labs member companies have generated $17.5 million in revenue and have 290 employees. Bunker Labs has local chapters in 12 markets—they were in 8 when I first introduced myself four months ago—and I met Dean Bundschu, the Executive Director of RDU Bunker Labs (Raleigh-Durham) and former Infantry Office in the Army, and Michael Penney, the local chapter’s Program Manager, a former Marine NCO.

When I found how impressive they were at telling their extraordinary stories of service to our country I invited them to speak to my Duke class last spring. They talked about their military experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and about how often they had to rely on entrepreneurial skills there and how they are making their way as entrepreneurs and creative professionals now—they each have a couple of start-ups active, Dean has a couple earlier successes under his belt—and students let me know they found them to be powerful speakers.

Later this spring Michael and I organized and I conducted an evening creativity workshop for RDU Bunker Labs member companies; along with a few other invited guests there were 25 of us who had a blast together. Andy Schwab generously hosted it at the First Flight Venture Center.

todd connor

A couple of weeks ago I met Bunker Labs CEO and founder, Todd Connor, a former Navy Lieutenant. Along with driving Bunker Labs’ growth he is the founder of Flank 5 Academy, a successful career development venture. He is a dynamic leader (everywhere I look at Bunker Labs, there’s the most generative leadership vibe happening). I learned a lot in our hour long discussion, and was so impressed with all they accomplished with their Bunker Burst, a one day innovation workshop that Bunker Labs hosted in partnership with the United States Naval Institute to spur new ideas to big challenges facing the Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.

muster rdu

When I learned that Bunker Labs next big event is in my town I volunteered to help. Muster RDU will be a full day of programs and workshops to help veterans who are considering entrepreneurship gain access to the resources, programs and community they need to help transform their military experience into business success.

Just one measure of Bunker Labs’ success is how quickly major corporations are supporting their good work; this event is sponsored by MetLife Military Veterans Network, an employee-based diversity business network at MetLife that advocates for and supports the military community, JPMorgan Chase and Company, Cisco, and The Research Triangle Park Foundation.

Muster RDU is FREE to veterans and tickets are $50 for the general public. It will be held at the MetLife Global Technology Campus in Cary, NC on Thursday, September 22, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. I look forward to seeing you there.

Bunker Builds America – Raleigh-Durham Muster

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Who takes advantage, who creates advantage

This political season brings to mind a particular insight into creativity that I’ve been helping my Duke students make their own for the past few years.

I start by asking them to raise their hands if they like being taken advantage of and of course no one does so we talk about why that is. The general conclusion is something like: “When someone takes advantage of you, you haven’t just been defeated, you’ve been abused or disrespected.”

I’ve been defeated a bunch of times; we all have. It’s pretty clear that the more you compete the more you win and the more you lose. Over the years I’ve found the best course is to learn what I can from my losses and get on with it.

But it still bugs the hell out of me when someone takes advantage of me.

Then I ask my students to consider why it is, when an opportunity comes along, that we say we’re going to take advantage of that opportunity.

Taking advantage of an opportunity doesn’t necessarily mean I got there first so I get to take the best for me and leave the rest for you, but it’s permitted if we agree we can take advantage of that opportunity. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll skew the numbers in my favor, or fix the odds at the table, or carelessly pollute the English River upstream from the Ojibway, but we would call that taking advantage of the opportunity.

I then ask students to discuss what happens when instead of taking advantage of an opportunity we decide will create advantage from the opportunity.

Creating advantage is a predisposition to cultivating it, developing it, growing it, by recruiting the best people you can find to help make the opportunity a best version of itself for all involved and for as many as possible.

Along with entrepreneurs and engineers my classes have always had a large number of student athletes—by the way, one of the best measures of Duke is how it attracts so many extraordinary young men and women who compete at the highest levels as full time students and full time athletes, and after teaching there for 14 years with about 3,600 students/65% student athletes, I assure you it’s so, across all the sports, including football and basketball—and they will point out that taking advantage is exactly what you want to do when you are engaged in an athletic contest.

If you see any weakness in your opponents’ game you must take advantage of it; your victory requires their defeat.

After we understand the nature of that specific application of our concept, I rely on my 30 years of experience either starting companies or assisting others start theirs to help my students fast track their understanding that entrepreneurial success is not about defeating the competition; it’s about avoiding competition. My most successful ventures were those that offered an emerging market segment something they wanted and couldn’t get anywhere else, where we owned the market because in some way we created it or at least shaped it.

We did that by creating advantage for our customers, and for employees, and for my investors, so that they all wanted the success that I wanted; the harder we worked for our dealers during my Cellular One days, the harder they worked for us.

The class discussion concludes with my urging them to be intentional about this, with discipline and practice, to find a predisposition to create advantage from opportunity when they can; we practiced the discipline in my classes to help them get started.

And if I were teaching my classes at Duke this Fall on being the most creative and entrepreneurial version of yourself you can be, I would ask if this view into the differences between taking advantage and creating advantage provides a useful perspective on how we want to consider our political leaders.

When you listen to candidates talk about what they have done with their lives and how they have done it, and what they intend to do with our lives and how they will do it, does it sound like they have been and will be taking advantage of problems and opportunities, or does it seem they are trying to create advantage as we face problems and opportunities?

We’ve had presidential candidates, and not so long ago, both Republican and Democrat, some outsiders and some insiders, who led with creating advantage agendas. Some were of heroic ambition.

How would you evaluate your present presidential preference using this creative principle as a measure of a leader’s intent?

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I found a community of creative geniuses

I know a story about a community of people who fully appreciate the wonderful gift they’ve been given: They are all natural born creative geniuses, every one of them. They are all born with

— a tireless curiosity that discovers every angle

— unlimited imaginations that consider every option

— the ability to take something they learned in one place and relate it to something they learned someplace else in order to create new ideas or new solutions or new things

— and they are all born with a bias for action so when they take on a new challenge their natural disposition is to get started right away with lots of little experiments so they can quickly learn what works and what doesn’t as they try again and again.

It’s important to this story that you keep in mind that this community’s appreciation for the gift they were given is intentional and whole-hearted.

They have never been tempted to take it for granted because they understand the more they appreciate their gift, the more it appreciates in value.

Children are playing on green meadow examining field flowers using magnifying glass

Children are playing on green meadow examining field flowers using magnifying glass

This communities’ parents appreciate this gift in their children by making sure they get to be kids who enjoy big hunks of unstructured time every day, allowing their children to play games with their creative capacities and toy with their entrepreneurial instincts.

They play the games as they are creating them, developing stories to explain the new worlds, recruiting friends to join them, and then collaboratively recreating their games to include the narrative their friends brought with them as they rapid prototype a stick as a sword one moment then a telescope the next while hopping on one foot then the other.

And their parents appreciate their common creative genius by hiring the best school teachers

— who help students produce their educations, not consume them

— who build the ancient wisdom that play invites deep learning into the design of their classes

— who know the best way to learn something new isn’t to study it, but to get used to it in open-ended discovery
high school project

And this community of creative geniuses behave as servant leaders as they build businesses and other institutions that respect and appreciate that they have a bunch of creative geniuses working there, and the owners and the leaders and the managers appreciate that when they are generous with the folks who work with them those folks will be generous in response, and they are continually improving and developing new flexible and collaborative models for getting work done.

One of the results of this communities’ appreciation for their gift is a spectacular one: These creative geniuses create the very best futures that they can imagine, for themselves and their families, for their whole community, or more accurately they continually image and continually create and re-create their very best futures together.
future imagined

This story about this community and their appreciation of their creative genius is an aspirational story. An aspirational story is planted in today’s truth and offers a view to a better place as it shows us how to start our journey.

This particular aspirational story is rooted in the most important truth of all, that we are all born creative geniuses, at the core of our human condition is extraordinary creative capacity and adaptive and resilient entrepreneurial instincts.

Those of us who get to spend time watching 3 and 4 year boys and girls in self-regulated open-ended play don’t need further evidence of this truth; they exhaust us with their generative disposition, applying their curiosity and imagination and action-oriented inventive thinking so that everything is a creative exercise.

And there is major research that affirms our belief.

Back in the 1960’s when NASA had to transform itself from the organization that couldn’t even launch a dumb satellite into orbit into one that could send humankind on our first trip to the moon and bring us back home safely, NASA decided they needed to hire the most creative and entrepreneurial scientists and engineers they could find. So they asked the accomplished researcher and systems scientist George Land to develop an assessment tool to measure those qualities. When NASA’s early use of the tool strongly validated it, Land wondered what he’d find if he used the same tool NASA used to assess the creative abilities of 1,600 5 year olds, and so he did.
moon walk

And using NASA’s internal grading scale, 98% of the kids scored as creative geniuses.

A tool developed and tested and proven effective at identifying the most creative scientists and engineers revealed a wonderful fact, I can’t think of another more delightful, that our creative genius defines us.

And so Land continued to measure this group of kids, and watched as the scores steadily declined, and by the time these natural born creative geniuses were adults, only 2% performed as creative geniuses.

Land concluded that non-creative behavior is taught to us in school where we are told repeatedly that there is just one right answer to a problem, where teachers are quick to penalize and perhaps even punish if you don’t do it the way they teach you.

Land was right about schools but it doesn’t stop there; we have undervalued our creativity systemically, and for generations.

But now is the time and this is the place for us to become as creative and entrepreneurial and adaptive and resilient and generative as we can be. With such an array of first of a kind world-changing challenges facing us, and soon, why not become the community of creative geniuses capable of imagining a better future as we set about building it?
This story ends with the urgent request that each of us find our part to play in this aspirational story of the renewal of our creative genius right now. The urgency is clear: this is the sort of story that becomes more complete as soon as you take on your role. So so to all us parents and teachers and business leaders and community leaders, let’s each find new ways to intentionally and wholeheartedly appreciate our own creative and entrepreneurial qualities so we can then serve our communities by helping others intentionally and whole-heartedly appreciate theirs creative gift.

And then we do it again.


Sustainable Abundance?

Recently I heard a friend complain about how conversations about sustainability too quickly seem to be conversations about living with less, and I found myself wondering about sustainable abundance as, well, as a way to inform that conversation. I have begun to use it to shape my thoughts and my behavior, and my view of the possible, even though I am just beginning to understand what I might mean when I use it.

But my goodness, what if? What if sustainable abundance was possible?

Have you found that generosity is generative, most of the time? As an entrepreneur I find being generous with the marketplace or with employees results in them being generous with my company.

Have you found that appreciating leads to an appreciation? That is, when I try to appreciate the new idea you share with me and then speak about it appreciatively, often enough the value of the new idea appreciates.

Have you found that practicing servant leadership–caring for folks, helping them do the best work they can do–often results in teams generating outcomes that are more than the sum of the parts?

Have you found that aspirational stories—stories rooted in a truth today that show the way to a better future—will help create that future?

What do you think about sustainable abundance? Have you experienced it in your work, in your personal life? I would love to hear your thoughts and stories if you had the time to share them.

I am soon to publish a new book ‘Become a Creative Genius (again)’ and am warming myself up to the idea that its companion might be a book on how we achieve sustainable abundance, in our personal lives, in our companies, in our communities.


A thought for Independence Day Weekend

And it might be as simple as this:

It seems to me that the greatest independence I can accomplish—my financial well-being, achieved through the application of my individual skills and abilities—comes from my dependence on others—upon our successful creative collaboration when working on an entrepreneurial effort, and on your knowledge and experiences that accelerate my growth.


Playing with Matrix

Think for a moment about all the ways the word matrix is used.

Mathematicians call a matrix a rectangular grouping of numbers or numerical expressions for the purpose of a specific computation.

Biologists consider matrix to be the cellular material in which other specialized structures are embedded.

Geologists and chemists also use the word, to signify very different concepts.

Businesses call a matrix the visual organization they bring to strategy options or dynamic information to facilitate decision making. And many businesses have been trying to apply matrix management for years—the broad business strategy that challenges traditional management structures while promising flexible and responsive organizations.

And I wouldn’t be surprised that you use the word matrix in some other fashion.

I recently learned that as this Latin word traveled from Old French into Old English, the original Latin meaning of a pregnant animal became mother’s womb and by the mid 1500’s matrix meant a place or medium where something is developed.

I was immediately captivated by that fertile understanding of the word when I realized that The Generative Way is a matrix, a systematic grouping of core creative concepts organized to help you develop your creatively entrepreneurial qualities.

I’d been calling it a system, and it is systematic, but I appreciate this inherently productive energy captured by these deep meanings of matrix.

Hmmm, I wonder…when you use the word matrix, how do you benefit when you look to add the more generative aspects of the word to your application of it?


Helping High School students become Creative Geniuses

I am excited to be heading up to NYC later today to put on a 90 minute workshop for nearly 100 high school students who will be meeting for the weekend at a leadership development program offered by Hugh O’Brian Leadership (HOBY), an organization established way back in 1958 by the television star, Hugh O’Brian, inspired by the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Albert Schweitzer.


When I was a little boy one of my favorite shows was the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and O’Brian played the famous lawman.

HOBY’s mission is to develop young leaders to be service minded and to think creatively. They have touched the lives of 375,000 high school students around the world, and this event will be attended by one rising junior from every high school in NYC.

It’s a great organization, volunteer run, and worthy of our support.

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Become a Creative Genius (again)

CreativeGenius-title2Sign up for the new September 2015 sessions here!

A new journey has begun. After testing my content with nearly 3,000 students, I am confident that I can help someone become the most creative and entrepreneurial version of themselves that they can be.

And since we were all born creative geniuses (or 98% of us anyway) then that’s my ambition, to help folks reclaim their creative genius.

This 30 day course is only offered in the Durham area now. But watch out. We’ll be adding new locations and we are considering the most effective on-line strategy as well.

Join us.


The Power of Both

The Old Irish Goat has me in the mood to keep exploring nature for lessons on how to be the most creatively entrepreneurial person you can be, and I want to share one of my favorite stories.

It was a Sunday morning, I was driving home down a quiet country road, low swampy woods on both sides. Up ahead, crossing the road, it was hard to tell at first, but yes, it was two shapes, very small critters of some sort, in a jerky locomotion and not making much progress fast, so I pulled my pick-up over and discovered they were two baby snapping turtles, likely hatched in the previous 48 hours.

When I picked up these perfect miniatures of the 40 pound adults they become in about 10 years–they can live most of a century, and some specimens get as big as 80 pounds–one of them disappeared into its shell and the other stuck its neck out as far as it would go, and opened its mouth to threaten me.
baby snapper

To give them a better chance to reach 100 years I decided to put them in my truck to drive the mile or so to the path I knew that would lead deep into the woods to a creek, and I would release them there.

So I did, and I placed the two baby snapping turtles in the water, and in the blink of an eye, they were gone; they had each vanished in an instant, by following very different strategies–one disappeared into the soft mud creek bottom, and the other darted into the deepest water.

And so whatever predator was after them, one of them would have survived.

I was staggered by the beauty of it–it made me weak in the knees while my spirit soared. I found myself on my knees, humbled by nature’s balance and grace.

I was walking back through the woods when the creative lesson came to me. I saw that opposite behaviors can be reconciled when the right question is asked. In this case it wasn’t a question about how a baby snapping turtle should behave when threatened; it was a question about how a clutch of baby snapping turtles survives.

And I thought about how often I have been challenged, when doing creative work, to bring together disparate thoughts or ideas or actions and felt like I had to choose one over the other, or compromise the two which usually results in something less than the outcome I was working towards.

I now saw that when faced with interesting or attractive opposite ideas or solutions, I should step back and reconsider the question I am trying to answer, or the strategy I am trying to develop, and see if I can reformulate it, restate it, so that both can be true.

It was years later that someone helped me understand the immediate effect watching these snapping turtles had on me when he defined transcendence as the reconciliation of two opposites. You transcend limitations and something new is created.

And that’s what we are trying to do so often in the creative process; we are trying to find that relationship between two things previously unrelated.

We are attempting a transcendence.
adult snapping turtle

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As creative as an Old Irish Goat

The post I wrote a few days ago about my recent trip to Ireland and the extraordinary entrepreneurial vibe found throughout the West was my most popular—it was read in far more countries than is typical for my blog posts, 24 and counting. (13 readers in South Korea, 6 in the Philippines, and 3 in Moldavia, places I have never been read). I found that the story I included about the discovery of the Old Irish Goat is fascinating everyone, so I thought I would tell you a bit more about them, then show you how my goats, two female Nubians, taught me a valuable lesson we can apply to creatively entrepreneurial work.

The interest in the Old Irish Goat is nicely summarized in a recent article in The Mayo News. “The Old Irish Goats have a long lineage, stretching back beyond the Neolithic Age to the Ice Age, two eras that have left an indelible mark on the Co Mayo landscape, from the Céide Fields to Clew Bay itself. They are literally as old as the hills. The presence of these goats in reasonable numbers in Mayo is another chapter in the county’s long history as a refuge for declining species.”

The Old Irish Goat Society was established in 2006 to preserve the breed in the wild and to achieve official rare breed status. With traveling companions Mark Bowles and Eamon Howley, I visited their breeding operation at Westport House. We were hosted by Sean Carolan, one of the lead volunteers.
IMG_5234 (1)

A doe had given birth to two kids that morning, and Sean was smiling.

Sean told us about the work being done and when he finished Mark wondered “Gee, how did they survive the Famine?” and I thought, wow, yes, somehow these goats were clever enough, hardy enough, adaptive enough, to have survived all those years on an island of people starving to death, may they rest in peace, amen.

My two Nubians were named Athena and Persephone by my daughters—they were reading a lot of Greek mythology when we got them—and almost every day for a whole lot of years these two goats would accompany me and my dogs for long walks in the woods behind our little six acre farm. After I would hike in for a while I would settle under an old oak or by the side of a creek to write or work on one thing or another; the dogs would range and the goats would graze and as I came to fully understand how they did that, their strategy for grazing, I saw it as the perfect analogy for how to begin important creatively entrepreneurial work.

When they saw I was settled they would feast on the foliage furiously, frantically, ripping leaf and stem, chewing just enough to swallow, and they would move quickly from spot to spot, first one shrub then another bush, then the tall grasses, then the young leaves on a low hanging branch, never overly much of any one thing but rather a good sampling of all they could reach, biting, ripping, chewing quickly, and rapidly ingesting and collecting it all in the front compartments of their four-chambered stomach system.

Then, if I sat there long enough, and depending on the lushness—or scarcity—of the season, they ingested enough, and now it was time to digest. They ‘d find a covered spot close to me—I was their comfort in the wild—lie down with their legs folded under them and they began the process of slowly, deliberately, digesting their intake.

In the two front stomach chambers the plant material is separated into solids and liquids and microbes begin to break down the plant fibers that form into clumps to be regurgitated as cud. The goats chew their cud deliberately now, carefully and completely—they can enter into a trance like state if they are left alone long enough—and when the plant fiber is swallowed again it is easily digested and they will capture every bit of the nutritional goodness that had been locked in the plant.

They are extraordinarily efficient—goats in the wild are most often found where foliage is scarce.

And so we have a picture of how to attack a new creatively entrepreneurial challenge. Behave like an Old Irish Goat. With all your energetic enthusiasms you attack the challenge by first aggressively collecting inputs and ideas and stories from as many different sources as you can, organizing them to retain them, and then when your collection capacity is filled, sit back and carefully consider what you have discovered, chewing carefully, looking for patterns and mashing them up with each other for fresh insight.

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