Just when you think you’ve learned all you can about creating a powerful business, there is more. At last week’s CEO Space conference I spent time with business experts Pamela Edwards and Michael White-Ryan, cofounders of The Language of Space (and spouses as well). They are specialists in design, energy, space and hold a deep expertise in the principles of Feng Shui that they apply to outcomes far beyond the Eastern studies’ traditional uses. The result: a set of surprising truths that empower entrepreneurs to advance their businesses and success in new ways. From our two-hour discussion in Vegas, here are the gems I distilled:
- Great entrepreneurs are expert “inner observers.” Yet again, this observation from both traditional and non-traditional experts agrees, strong self-awareness is one of the top abilities an entrepreneurial leader can have. Management expert Victor Lipman observes this phenomenon from a psychological standpoint. Edwards and White-Ryan espouse this core strength from a spiritual and metaphysical level as well. Regardless of the methods (why not use multiple?) the ability to understand who you are and what you need will be fundamental to creating and leading a business that is poised to succeed. For example, a woman who roiled at the need to submit to the authority of younger leaders in a corporate environment was able to recognize and admit this trait, and later succeeded famously as a freelance service provider. In another case, a woman striving for 16 years to succeed as an entrepreneur, upon self-reflection, has finally realized she requires the greater structure of an organization and is now unashamed in her quest to return to a traditional managerial role.
Pamela Edwards and Michael Ryan-White are experts in the “language of space.”
- The best entrepreneurs are able to change gears quickly. “To kill or not to kill the ‘status quo’ is the question,” White-Ryan says. Too many entrepreneurs are stuck in the crouched and defensive stance brought about by the past seven years of recession and have “forgotten the dance” of breakthrough creativity. In contrast, great entrepreneurs are poised in spring position as they watch intently for the ideal moment to leap. Here’s a case in point: new SEC rules will allow entrepreneurs, within the next 60 days, to raise up to $50M through crowdfund investing (the lowdown here from Sherwood Neiss of Crowdfund Capital Investors).
- Yes, it is vital to figure out “who you are.” It sounds like a New Age concept, but the needs and benefits of this study are real. Leadership development firm Zenger Folkman identifies 16 leadership strengths over 5 primary categories. Myers Briggs identifies four differentiators that result in 16 potential personality “types,” but Edwards and White-Ryan see many more possibilities, stemming from the eight energetic qualities we possess.
- When you know who you are, play to your strengths. Does that mean you will follow your passion? Maybe—but maybe not. For example, White-Ryan points out that in my own case, my top three “energies” – compassion, people, and intelligence—are elements that feed each other in a way that makes PR and communications an ideal career. But these characteristics come with cautions as well: for my business to succeed, I need to set boundaries on too many requests that speak to my innate “desire to help.” Traditional leadership development upholds this principle as well. When you learn to play to your standout strengths as opposed to trying to grind down on your standout weakness (unless it’s a fatal flaw), you’ll succeed. Imagine the implications – an entrepreneur might be brilliant at raising capital, but blind at the realities of managing an operational team day to day. Which leads to this:
- Consider all of the principles that should influence who you hire. The people you feel a natural affinity with are most probably the wrong choices, White-Ryan says. He notes a San Francisco-based company he recently counseled. All was great for a time—then the business plateaued. The culprit? Each of the three principles was a mirror image of the energy qualities the others possessed. Compatible? Yes. But capable of growing a company together? Only for the first while. You should perform a deeper analysis of the people you hire, Michael and Pamela suggest, to ensure you’re gaining energy styles and capabilities you’re lacking, and not just finding others who mirror your own style and skills.
- Learn to master “time space synchronicity.” In the realm of Feng Shui wisdom, this is the classic entrepreneurial conundrum: entrepreneurs become founders because they have great ideas. But to lead, they must focus. Even at their best, many struggle with at least a few additional ideas they just can’t get out of their heads. “This is why ‘pivot’ comes up so much,” White-Ryan says. It’s also why founders may not be great CEOs. As an example, Steve Jobs initially lost his company. But when he came back, he’d learned organizational skills and was able to lead Apple to the company it eventually became.
- Your workspace is a bigger predictor of success than you thought. Traditionally, the eastern wisdom we’ve applied to our workspace has focused on the elements of energy flow, process, and the ideal integration of visual and functional elements such as water, wood, earth, metal and fire. They’ve led to peaceful and beautiful spaces. However, taken to their fullest fruition, the principles can determine where the business is located (And you thought it was entirely about access to customer traffic and price?) Where is the entry to your space? It is the “mouth” or the opening to the business that either welcomes its visitors or workers or pushes them back. For example, in one case, a restaurant that was struggling went through a guidance with Pamela and Michael for a re-design and new time of opening. Without advertisement, the business went from nearing closure to standing room only within hours of re-opening. How does the flow of work and process progress through your organization? How does it support your customers? As an example of the dramatic change this can make, take a look at the revision to this home’s entryway below. The space now invites the flow of people and energy as opposed to pushing positive energy away.
When the entry to a home or business place is faulty, it turns energy and potential business away. (Image courtesy of LanguageofSpace.com)
After – the modified entry is now poised for success. (Image courtesy of LanguageofSpace.com)
- Workspace strategy applies to the placement of people and personalities as well as buildings and things. About five years ago an Orange County company that manages class action disbursements, Simpluris, sought guidance on what to do as the business that had initially been thriving was suddenly facing increasing challenges to its growth. It turned out the difficulty was not just the building and facility, but the arrangement of people. After analysis of their personality and energy styles, Edwards guided the company in moving its four mercurial characters into separate quartiles. The separation caused the negative collusion to stop and forced the four to function. In fairly short order, they left. The CEO resumed the functional helm and the company grew by 1,700% over its next three years of business and has been recognized as an Inc. 500/5000 company for each of those years.
- If what you’re doing isn’t working, look deeper. A 50-something CEO was attempting to sell a house to allow him to move to his next professional realm. Two years went by. No sale, and nothing he attempted was working. He looked deeper. He began to look at himself and his business differently, and it opened new doors. “Sometimes a home office can be part of the problem that is holding you back, White-Ryan proclaimed. “Everything is connected, but we don’t necessarily understand the connections until we look deeper or acquire new resources or seek new modalities for help.” The executive re-arranged the home. The space supported his new level of function. His career began to thrive. And not surprisingly, the home quickly sold.
- Think “holistically”. Your “self” as an entrepreneur and your business is more than your mindset. For example, you may function seemingly well within your business and still feel like throwing yourself off a building because you don’t feel whole inside, White-Ryan said. Or what worked for your business or your career up until now may have you now feeling sidelined. “You need to evaluate who and what you are in 2015,” he remarked.
And as a final word of wisdom, as expressed by improvement guru Tony Robbins: “Nothing can pull you down that you aren’t holding onto.” These wise words apply not only to notions, to grudges and to people, but perhaps to outdated patterns of working and business as well. Consider the ways new and out-of-the-box approaches to traditional entrepreneurial and workplace challenges could propel your business this year.
Tips & Secrets From Top CEOs
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