The railroad industry has been in trouble for quite a few decades now. Not because people don’t need to have things shipped, but because when other forms of transportation came about, they didn’t feel threatened…afterall, they were in the railroad business. They didn’t realize that while they did run the rails, they were also in the transportation business. When they failed to see any person or company who uses transportation services as a possible client, they began missing opportunities.

When the ice house business saw that some upstart company was making a freezer…they didn’t notice because they were in the ice delivery business, not the ice making business. They failed to see that they were part of the cooling stuff business. If you look around you will notice that there aren’t any thriving ice house companies anymore.

Back in the 1960’s the Japanese automobile share of the U.S. market wasn’t much, so the U.S. auto manufactures didn’t much notice. They saw themselves as invincible. Now, it is hard to drive down the road without seeing a foreign car.

The electric company is clearly a monopoly…but what happens as fuel cells, solar energy and other “alternatives” become more and more prevelant. Are they in the electricity business or the energy business or the providing for customer’s needs business?

Are you defining your business too narrowly? Do you need to broaden your scope so that you don’t follow the path of the ice house or the railroad ,the American automobile manufacturer?  Maybe your business hasn’t been hit yet by new competition. If so, good for you!

I am a Spanish instructor by trade. My world is changing. There are so many resources online for students who want to learn Spanish it is amazing! I could be threatened by this, but I am choosing to believe that my goal is to see as many bilingual people as possible! Did you know that for about $10 and hour, you can take private lessons from trained Spanish as a second language instructors in Latin America over Skype? How can I, as an American compete with that? I don’t have to, but my job does have to change! Now I can help facilitate those students and teachers making connections. I can take students there to meet the instructors in person. I am not in the teaching business. I am in the helping this world communicate business.

What about you? Do you need to broaden the scope of what you do?

 

This blog is a failure. Yep. Glad you enjoy it, but it isn’t what it could be. Back in April of 2011, I posted the first post to startstuff.net.

If I had blogged consistently, I truly believe that this blog would have gained a good bit of recognition by now.  I didn’t.

If you look back through the archives, you will notice gaps of time. There were years where I hardly missed a day, but other years where whole months are blog-less.

You can’t see the rankings, but if you look back through the data for how many users/hits etc on the site, it is always interesting to me how it grows. With time, it gets to where a few thousand people a day are checking out startstuff.net. Then, when I don’t blog for a while, it drops and when I restart, it is lucky if a hundred a day are reading. It comes back up with time, but there is no quick fix. Sure, there can be one post that really gets shared on social media and you have a one day or even a few days of really high numbers, but the real growth comes from every day, putting out a quality product. Little by little, the number of readers grows. One friend tells another friend and next thing you know, there are thousands again.

I hope you learn from my mistakes! The consistency is important in anything you do. Doing the little things every day. Showing up. Shipping your work. Making something happen. Keep repeating that and success will come! It isn’t “overnight success”, it is slow consistent growth of what you do. One day, you will turn around and look back and think, “I have come a long way!”, but it wasn’t one leap forward…it was consistent work that got you there.

 

I used to laugh at a sign in a small town Chinese restaurant. It proudly announced that they had been voted the #1 Chinese restaurant in town! They were not ashamed of that position of course! Now the fact that they were the only Chinese restaurant in that one horse town was beside the point…they chinesewere #1!

You may not have the marketing capital or the personnel to be #1 in your industry in the world…but can you be #1 in your town? #1 in your zip code? That is something worth striving for!

This goal is especially true for things that cannot be shipped out easily or sent out over the internet. Things like prepared food, hair cuts, mechanical services…you can’t get cheap labor from a third world country to handle those things for you. They, by necessity, have to be done locally. So, own your town! Be the best in your area of service!

Maybe you haven’t been the best in the past. While the best time to start was 10 years ago or more, the second best time is today! Get started giving your best to your customers! Give them the best service, the best product for their money, and something extra that will make them want to come back.

And if you open a Chinese Restaurant in a small town, make sure you put up a #1 Chinese Restaurant sign!

 

A while back, I posted the following question on Facebook:

Those of you who are students. Would you rather fail your classes but really learn incredible life skills or get all “A’s” but not really learn anything?

The answers to this question were as varied as the students who posted. Here are a few of the responses.

  • I feel like this is a better question for employers. How do you demonstrate “incredible life skills” on a resume. ~ Beth Dickson
  • I would much rather have all A’s because that would look better on my resume, but I am a proactive learner and would try to find things out on my own if I didn’t learn them in class. ~ Allison Martin Williams
  • As someone who employs sometimes, life lessons are preferred. No one cares about grades in school, they want to know what you can do and what kind of attitude you have. I personally wish I could have gone back and gotten better grades AND learned more, but especially learned more. ~ Jake Ticknor
  • All A’s. That paper opens doors I can learn stuff later. ~Stephen Lane
  • Definitely fail and learn something I can apply. Still have not applied any of my education. ~ David Hagin
  • Harvard Business Review, last year, said that the trend for many employers is to look for life skills and collaborative experience more so than grades or a degree–unless, that is, the degree is a graduate degree. ~ Joshua Erni-Salmans
  • For those of us depending on academic scholarships, the grade is more important. You don’t get payed thousands of dollars for “life skills”. ~Callie Gieck
  • Personally I would rather learn something. But to the tune of an entire months income a class, a cost I sacrifice everything to scrape together, give me the A and ill learn the life skills in a less costly format. College isn’t about learning it’s about jumping through hoops and celebrating pretentiousness. If you can learn between all that good for you. But it’s about getting the A ‘ s before you can’t afford to keep going so you can get a better job and pay it all off. I love college. I really do. But it’s designed to break you financially or saddle you for life. And all college decisions MUST be made with that in mind. ~ Jessie Phoenix

There were many more, but this sample gives you a quick idea of the responses the question garnered. You can almost feel the frustration in the answers of some of the students.  As someone in higher education, it is something I struggle with. On one hand, I understand that a liberal arts education isn’t just about helping the student find a job. That would be a vocational degree. However, I am convinced that many in the Humanities are hiding behind this idea in order to funnel students through a preset schedule of classes that are great for the faculty involved and easier to administrate, but do little to prepare the students to be the creative innovators that we need in leadership. There is the oft thrown about phrase that we are teaching “critical thinking skills” and PhD’s sit around debating what that means exactly. How do we teach students to fail often –To get back up and keep going? How do we teach creativity? Leadership? Innovation?

Our system of higher education is out of whack with the future, and with innovation; and it is at direct odds with what we say we believe. Not only are our universities not teaching innovation or delivering an innovation experience, they seem to be doing their best to destroy innovative thinking in young people. ~ Henry Doss

In a class recently, I asked how many books the students were reading that weren’t required for a class. While the results varied, there were no surprises. Those students who I have had that gut feeling will be leaders in whatever field they enter were ones who had read at least 5 books in the first two months of the year outside of their required reading. The students I have concerns about and to be honest sometimes wonder if they are putting their money to the best use by attending college…had read zero books outside of required work. I don’t think it is a stretch to suggest that the latter group may not be reading even the required work.

I would love to have a class full of that first group. It wouldn’t really matter what the subject being taught would be, they would be a dream class. Conversely, while I teach Spanish, if I can somehow inspire that second group to seek their own education rather than just following the lockstep plan that society has sold them, I feel that would be true success.

H.G. Wells had the following to say on the subject:

We are living in 1937, and our universities, I suggest, are not half-way out of the fifteenth century. We have made hardly any changes in our conception of university organization, education, graduation, for a century – for several centuries.

While that was written almost 80 years ago, his point is well taken that the university hasn’t changed much. As I sort through my own feelings and thoughts on this issue, I am attempting to share them with Startstuff readers. Please e-mail me with comments, thoughts or suggestions: burl@burlwalker.com (I do answer my own e-mail.) If you are in the world of education and don’t want your name used in any followup posts for fear of backlash from your superiors, just let me know and I promise to keep your name confidential.

This post is really a continuation of the thoughts I expressed in this post if you would like to read more about my struggle with the current status of higher education.

 

Retirement
Each month, I, like many Americans put money into a retirement account. It might be a 401(k), a IRA, a ROTH IRA, a 403(b), some other fund or a combination of the above. The problem with all of these funds is that it is tied to the stock market. I am not a financial guru, but it seems like the stock market, like the real estate market back in 2007, is over inflated and due for a “correction” in the next year or so. Sadly, for the average American, there is nothing you can do to change that. You can try to move your shares to a safer stock or maybe your fund will let you invest in bonds, but either way, if there is a major correction in the market, you and I are likely to lose our proverbial shirts again. The historic 10% per year over the long run may continue, but I for one have my doubts. So, I want to brainstorm a bit and share that brainstorm with my startstuff readers.

These are my ideas. I am sure you could add to this list, but mainly, I want to get the juices flowing in your creative mind so that you don’t get broadsided by the fact that your company retirement account and social security aren’t likely to be enough for you to retire well on. You can build a solid retirement portfolio with some intentionality on your part. Like the three legged stool, you don’t want all your lumber invested in one leg. Having a balance is key to making sure that you don’t hit old age broke. In addition, the more streams of income you have, the less dependent you are on any single one of those incomes. If you suddenly lose your primary job, it might put a dent in your spending, but would no longer put you out on the street. Your side work could be increased with the extra time and possibly make you more than you made working for your current organization/company/institution.

My personal financial goals.

  • Finish paying off my house. While there may be tax incentives to stay in debt, it doesn’t compare to the feeling of living in a house that is 100% yours….not yours and the bank’s. At the time of writing this post, I am about $4,000 away from that goal!
  • Find 3-4 friends who would like to share an investment in a fixer-upper house to either flip or rent. My thought is that I would rather have 1/5th interest in 5 houses than 100% ownership of one house. Also, being able to share the work with others during the rehab process sounds like more fun than working alone. (I have done it alone, and much prefer to work with others.) This goal is long term, but the hope is that the partnership will last a long time and at some point will be a primary source of income for all involved.
  • Continue to write. This year so far, my royalties have been more than any previous year. If each year going forward, those amounts can continue to increase, I might be able to afford to pay a bill or two with that money. While I say this somewhat tongue and cheek, I love writing just for me, but it is nice to see it beginning to pay enough to actually feel like I am starting to get paid for my efforts.
  • Work on getting another stream of income other than my primary job. My two ideas are either through taking more translation/interpreting jobs or working to teach dance more. Those might not work for you, but I am sure that you have a skill that is marketable. If not, then learning a new marketable skill might be on the agenda for you.

I trust that you now have your mind focused on this idea and are coming up with your own ideas. Keep your chin up, I am not doom and gloom. As long as you are conscious of and planning for the future, you will most likely be ok. It is those who fail to plan who are planning to fail as the old saying goes. Plan smart, make your goals and if you come up with a really awesome idea, shoot me an e-mail and I would be happy to have you guest blog here on Startstuff.

 
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