Category Archives: The entrepreneurial edge

Pick your DNA. Before DNA picks you.

What’s going to happen to the world the day after you’re gone?

Whoa. Back up.

Do you care what happens to the world the day after you’re gone?

I meet a lot of people who are just drifting through life. Trying to stay out of trouble. Avoiding any kind of impact, good or bad, on anyone. Marking time at their jobs until they can retire, put their feet up, and “finally start living”.

One chap last year told me he had one year left to work.

“What will you do then?” I asked. “As little as possible” came the reply.

My prediction? He won’t last long.

Or, he’ll find himself henpecked and harried by those around him, who will happily use the time that he won’t.

He’ll be wondering how he ever found the time to work before. Almost every retiree I meet says that.

A car without an engine is a rusting hulk. The scrapyard beckons.

The only reason for the car, in fact, is to allow the engine, and you, to get around.

Human beings are not a true lifeform.

DNA is the lifeform. We’re all just carriers for our DNA.

Every human being is just another experiment being run by DNA. What, that person crashed and burned. Whoops, I guess that experiment was a failure. Let’s not repeat that one.

But there’s a twist.

A gold nugget that most people never learn:

You get to change your DNA.

Disclaimer: I’m not sure how true this is physically. I’m no geneticist. Although I am reading an increasing amount about how you apparently can switch certain of your genes on/off by your behaviour.

But mentally? You can alter, choose, change, adapt, tweak your mental and psychological DNA.

Most people never do.

Their DNA is, Survive. Stay alive. This life is a crock. Survive until tomorrow. Hang on until I retire. Life sucks, then you die.

They’re really just acting as carriers for other people’s DNA. Their own DNA forfeited the match and left town.

Last month, while in Toronto, I had an encounter I won’t forget in a hurry.

Pastor G, as he’s always been labelled, is Gerald Griffiths. Good old Welshman. With a name like that, what else could he be.

He inherited the label from his wife, Mrs G, the storyteller.

He a career clergyman, she a great storyteller. So great, in fact, that she started recording them and shipping them around the world to pastors and teachers in far-flung places where education was hard to come by. It turned into a tidy little business called A Visit with Mrs G.

Mrs G is gone now, but Pastor G was one day shy of ninety-six, and he stood and talked with me at the back of the church for twenty minutes.


For twenty minutes.

If he was in any pain or discomfort, he showed none. Seen many 96-year-olds stand for more than 60 seconds?

He’s a bit hard of hearing, and slightly stooped, but that’s it. His eyes are unchanged. Dark. Focused.

His eyes lock on you, and you realize very quickly: He’s on you. You have his full attention. He is listening.

And his mind? Razor-sharp.

I had not seen him since he officiated at my wedding 27 years ago. That had been his last official act as church pastor before retiring.

Retiring. Yeah, right.

He hasn’t retired.

“I’ve got five projects on the go. You know about the church in China? It’s an adult church, because the authorities make it difficult to teach the Bible to childen. But that’s changing. So we have to equip the people to be Sunday school teachers. We’re translating Mrs G recordings into e-books and podcasts and sending them over via the net. That’s just the biggest project, but there are four besides. What’s your email address? Here, jot it down for me. You used to work in wind engineering, didn’t you? How are those chaps that you used to room with? Are they still in the faith? Where in the UK are you? What do you make of Theresa May? I wish she’d do away with Boris Johnson, he’s a loose cannon.”

And with that, he walked away. Unaided. No cane, no wheelchair.


Met many 96-year-olds with an email address? Who know what an e-book is? A podcast?

That, folks, is great DNA. My mind was blown.

Note to self: Be like this when I’m 96. When I’m 106.

This engine is waaaaaay oversized. Well maintained, purring like a cat. It will eventually blow the body and chassis apart, but he doesn’t care. He’s tied up with the engine. He isn’t him, he’s the DNA.

What’s your DNA?

In the 1960’s, a young man, just graduated from Cambridge law school, returned to his island home and found it in political turmoil. The federal government resented the islanders, and declared them all persona non grata.

They didn’t want independence, it was forced on them.

The island had loads of disadvantages. Mostly uneducated peasants. A history of ethnic conflict. High population density. No natural resources. Hot, humid climate.

Only three advantages.

(1) Strategic location for trading.

(2) Human brains. Lots of ‘em. Uneducated, undeveloped, but loads of potential.

(3) One local bloke with a decent education, vision, optimism, natural leadership, and loads of pluck.

Go check the place out today.

Lee Kuan Yew had great DNA. Singapore punches waaaaaay above its weight.

When the Boxing Day tsunami hit Aceh and Phuket, the Singapore navy and air force scrambled. Ships sailed and aircraft flew in aid.

The tsunami-affected governments had two reactions:

(1) Gratitude. Obviously. They needed the help.

(2) Shock and fear. Who are these guys? Where did Singapore get this military capacity? The puny little flyweight we cut adrift fifty years ago is a potential threat. Living next door. Damn.

Lee Kuan Yew saw it all in his mind long before it happened. He had a vision for what his little island home could be. Even after he was gone.

Have you picked your DNA yet?

If you don’t pick your DNA, someone else’s DNA will pick you.

What your mind can imagine, you can create. What you do not imagine, never happens.

The New Customers are after more than your money

Who’s the customer in any transaction?

Early on in life, I somehow got the impression that the customer must always be the one holding the money.

That’s was true in a world that was short on cash and opportunities, but long on time and attention span.

But in so much of the world now, the reverse is true. (That’s not to say that we all have plenty of cash, and no time. But we generally have plenty of options for acquiring more cash quickly with the time they have available.)

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Here’s an interesting quote. In the July 2011 issue of Freelancing Matters, Julia Meyer (CEO, Ariadne Capital) says, “I don’t know a single person under 30 who wants to work for someone else.”

This does not bode well for traditional mindset companies that need to backfill their retiring baby-boomers.

I’m finding the same thing. Most of the teenagers I know are aiming for careers as freelance something-or-other. The last thing on their minds is a traditional career in accounting, law, medicine, science, engineering, etc.

Old-school HR managers have still not clued in.

To ensure the future, old traditional-culture corporations will have to take one of two options:

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Great stories from SXSW 2011!

Ever felt the urge to do something crazy? To start a ball rolling that you might not be able to stop? (Assuming you’d want to stop it.)

Then check this out. It’s a collection of 50 stories from SXSW 2011, the people behind the stories, and the crazy (and pretty cool!) balls they started rolling.

Mighty encouraging.

I’d never heard of SXSW until last week. Guess I read the wrong newspapers.

Oops . . . . . .

(Just kidding, I rarely read a newspaper.)

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How the engineer should market him/herself in the 21st century

Alessandro Alessandrini writes in his blog,

It hurts to see many skilled professionals using a “bad” CV to present themselves. It hurts employers as they do not consider into their selection process all the right candidates.

I agree.

What troubles me, though, is that what constitutes a bad (or good) CV is very subjective.

Even if you were able to get any two CV-reviewers to agree on the definition of a good CV, I’d bet money that given the same pile of CV’s to review, they’d end up with different shortlists.

Similarly, I bet that they’d come up with different shortlists on different days. One day, they’re in good moods. But another day . . . . . . might be Monday. Sheesh, will ya look at these CV’s? Give me strength . . . .

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Comfort zones are a dangerous place to stay

Comfort zones.

Think back to the last time you were right out of yours.

Yesterday morning, I was out of mine for a few early-morning hours, and then well out of it for about twenty minutes. I’d taken the day off to attend a coaching session in London. I was paying my own way, and the voice in the back of my head had a decidedly mocking tone.

I hauled my sorry glutemus maximus out of bed at 5.15am, gulped down the usual carbohydrates, did my best to look professional (with a measure of success), easily out of the house as quietly as possible, coughed the Audi into life, and headed off towards the M4.

Two hours later, after driving around and around Slough in search of the train station parking lot (Guess what? It’s next to the train station, fool!), I was crammed upright on a train with several hundred iPhone-wielding Londoners. Why do people choose to do this 240+ days a year? Paddington. OK, Kimbell, why exactly are you doing this? Thousands of people spilling off trains, carefully avoiding eye contact with all other humanoids, barrelling down stairwells. Smell that? Aaaahh. Eau de London Underground. Just the assault my olifactory sensors were begging for when I got up this morning. Kimbell, you idiot.

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Living standards to improve, as things get better!

On my way to the office this morning, barely a hour ago, I detoured via the coffee shop, as any self-respecting engineer would. Morning Mel!  A latte please.

On the newspaper rack was the Telegraph. I haven’t bought a newspaper in nearly a decade, but I always eye the headlines while Mel’s steaming my caffeine fix. This headline said, in big 72-pt font letters:

Standard of living to plunge, says Bank governor.

And the thought, the very first thought that crossed my mind was, Not if Idon’t let it happen.

I find that headline irresponsible. It feeds people’s innate fears, which say, Bad things are going to happen to me that I can do nothing about. Life is going to get worse, and I’ll have to take it on the chin.


Only if I think it will get worse. Only if I let it.

Attitude. Think proactive. Make tough plans. Act. Things will get better.

Be an insurgent

I well remember  one very interesting meeting I had several years ago, when I was working as a wing loads integrator. (I know. Whassat. It’s the shortest way to describe the fact that I was a loads analyst who spent his working life on email and in meetings with managers who needed loads. I was both a specialist, as well as a moving target for stressed-out managers to fire at.)

It was a meeting called by a programme manager and his deputy. Topic? The list of loads deliverables that his programme was demanding from the Loads department during the design phase.

At the time, the Loads department was notorious for delivering loads that were both too high and late.

It was also well known that the Loads department was chronically understaffed, and managed by old-school techies who were disconnected from programme realities.

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Psssst! Kid! Wanna become an enginepreneur?

Being a member of that strange race as geeks, I often hear moaning about how youngsters these days just aren’t interested in an engineering career. Sometimes I hear it in the office, sometimes it’s on the news, or a radio discussion.

Often the culprit identified is the Coolness Index of engineers. We’re just not cool. We’re geeks, after all.

I suggest there’s at least one additional factor: Old engineers. I’ve lost count of how many colleagues have told me that they’ve discouraged their kids from pursuing engineering. (Don’t do it. You be chained to a desk, you won’t make much money, and They’ll beat out of you any enthusiasm you start with.)

Well, who allowed that situation to develop? I don’t doubt that City bean counters have done a good job of reigning in the engineering creativity of years gone by, for the sake of boosting shareholder value. But if the result has been a generation of apathetic and marking-time-for-the-pension engineers, then the engineers have been complicit. They have done themselves and their kids a disservice.

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