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 BLOG >> July 2014

Frustration is Good: Part 1 [Entrepreneurship
Posted on July 30, 2014 @ 08:03:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In my previous blog, Wishing Well, I briefly touched on the relationship between wishing and entrepreneurship.

In this blog and the next, I want to examine the role of frustration in entrepreneurship where frustration can be defined as the flip side of wishing that occurs when you engage in action to fulfill a wish but you are thwarted in your efforts. The emotion that generally accompanies this situation is frustration.

Frustration is good. Without it, we wouldn't 1) come to grips with reality, 2) achieve wishes of any significance, or 3) experience heightened satisfaction with life. There are quite a few blog postings on the frustrations that are common or unique to entrepreneurs, but I'm not aware of "frustration and entrepreneurship" actually being studied much in any academic way. It might be interesting, for example, to see how successful entrepreneurs vs 1st year university students deal with a frustration task (e.g., unsolvable anagrams task) to see if entrepreneurs persist longer or react differently (e.g., more or less anger, ascription of cause to internal or external factors, etc..). As far as I know, we don't know the answer to such basic questions regarding how successful entrepreneurs deal with and process frustration.

One surprising place we might find some insight into the role and operation of frustration is in psychoanalysis. A book that examines this in some detail is a book by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips titled Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life (2012). The ensuing set of blogs on frustration and entrepreneurship will draw upon insights from this book. The book itself elicits a large range of reader reactions from positive to negative. The negative reaction's appear to come from the frustration that he does not offer solutions to life's frustrations, instead mostly literary and psychoanalytic analysis of the nuances of frustration. I'm not offering solutions either, just discussion that might stimulate some deeper thinking on the topic of frustration and entrepreneurship. The title of this blog, Frustration is Good, suggests something that appears not to be true - and it might not be - but it serves the purpose of stimulating some thought on the role and purpose of frustration.

In this blog, I want to address the claim that without frustration we cannot come to grips with reality. This is a basic principle of psychoanalysis and the primary text to consult is Freud's Formulations on the Two Principles of Psychic Functioning (1911). In Freud's analysis, as a child grows up it needs to distinguish between the fantasy world it lives in and reality, and the key experience that puts the child in touch with reality is frustration:

whatever was thought of (wished for) was simply hallucinated, as still happens every night with our dream-thoughts. It was due only to the failure of the anticipated satisfaction, the disillusionment, as it were, that this attempt at satisfaction by means of hallucination was abandoned. Instead, the psychic apparatus had to resolve to form an idea of the real circumstances in the outside world and to endeavor actually to change them. With this, a new principle of psychic activity was initiated; now ideas were formed no longer of what was pleasant, but of what was real, even if this happened to be unpleasant. This inception of the reality principle proved to be a momentous step.

Lets take this out of the early development context and think about the role of frustration in later life. Here Adam Phillips has some wonderful prose to describe the critical role of frustration in later life.

We need to bear with, to know about, our frustrations not simply to secure our satisfactions but to sustain our sense of reality. In the psychoanalytic story, if we don't feel frustration we don't need reality; if we don't feel frustration we don't discover whether we have the wherewithal to deal with reality. People become real to us by frustrating us; if they don't frustrate us they are merely figures of fantasy. The story says something like: if other people frustrate us the right amount, they become real to us, that is, people with whom we can exchange something; if they frustrate us too much, they become too real, that is, persecutory, people we have to do harm to; if they frustrate us too little, they become idealized, imaginary characters, the people of our wishes, if they frustrate us too much, they become demonized, the people of our nightmares. And these, we might say are two ways of murdering the world: making it impotent or making it unreal. If this was quantifiable we would say that the good life proposed by psychoanalysis is one in which there is just the right amount of frustration. (p. 29-30)

The process of raising funds can be a frustrating process for an entrepreneur. The investor is not the cardboard character you might have imagined him or her to be. They are real people with certain demands that might appear to be designed to frustrate you in your wishes, but might also help bring you closer to fund raising reality and the accomodations you must make to eventually realize your goals.

My goal in this blog and the next is not to claim that a psychoanalytic interpretation of frustration is correct; it is to dabble for awhile in some of this literature for possible insights into the relationship between frustration and entrepreneurship. What I will claim is that it is worth spending some time reflecting upon the role of frustration in entrepreneurship because if we can become more mindful of the positive role of frustration, perhaps we can work with it to become more successful as entrepreneurs.


Wishing Well [Entrepreneurship
Posted on July 28, 2014 @ 10:39:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Welcome to my favorite wishing well. Click the play button and make a wish.

When I encountered this well on a walk in the park this morning, I couldn't immediately summon a wish that I wanted fulfilled. It seemed a bit silly and perhaps I wasn't trying too hard. I did eventually come up with a wish for peace in the Ukraine but that seemed like a politically correct thing to wish for and not truly a wish that stirred from deep inside me. As I continued my walk I wondered whether I would wish to win a lottery if I was the type of person that bought lottery tickets. I wondered if I was taking this wishing well thing too serious and whether it was just meant to be an object of amusement and that I should treat it as such.

In a different part of the park I encountered a wishing well-shaped object that seemed like it had a more serious purpose. It was a holy well. It is bolted shut probably to prevent children from falling into it.

Holy Well

So I start wondering whether holy wells and wishing wells might be related some how? Perhaps a wishing well originally contained holy water to make sure your wishes/prayers got though to god better? The water in the wishing well shown above is spring fed, clean and drinkable so is about as holy as I need it to annoint my wishes.

Is there any use for wishing wells? Would it be useful to visit a wishing well on regular occasions to cast out new wishes or revisit and reaffirm old wishes?

Many businesses start out as wishes to make money doing something that an entrepreneur enjoys doing. As the business morphs into reality we may forget that it started out as a wish. As the business was starting up it seemed more like a wish than a reality but once reality started to support the wish, you stop talking in terms of wishes and instead talked in proper business terms about goals set and achieved and plans realized.

An investor will not invest in pure wishes, but a wish that drives the accomplishment of several milestones, that is a different story. The wish is strong in the entrepreneur. It is not a wish that fizzles out at the first encounter with hardship on the path towards its realization.

One wish that motivates me this year is that my grape vines will produce good quality grapes that I can use to make a good quantity of wine with. I have weeded, trellised, and pruned some of my grapes for three years now and these three year old grapes look like they might finally produce enough juice to start making wine with. Many factors could derail that plan between now and a harvest date in early October. If someone asks me if I grow grapes, all I can say is I'm trying, I'm hoping, and I'm wishing. If I manage to produce some wine, then perhaps I'll start talking in the language of goals and plans instead of hopes and wishes.

So what do you really wish for? Click the play button and make a wish.


Natural Business [Nature
Posted on July 17, 2014 @ 07:58:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Some business gurus will tell you that in order to succeed in business you need to work longer and harder than your competitors. Forget the 40 hr week, you should be working 60 to 80 hrs a week on your business at minimum.

The same could be said for being successful at farming. A lazy farmer is likely to be an unsuccessful farmer and it is the go-go-go farmer that is more likely to build a successful farming enterprise. They put in the long hard hours and that is why they are successful, or so the story goes.

Is it possible to be successful without all the work? Perhaps the excessive amount of work you are doing is causing you to be unsuccessful? Perhaps the excessive amount of work is telling you something about the viability of your business? If you have to work this hard to make a go of it, perhaps it is too much work?

There may be an alternative paradigm for growing a business rooted in green philosophy. That paradigm leads to a type of business called a Natural Business, by analogy with Natural Farming.

You can learn about this natural approach by reading the book The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosphy (1985) by Masanobu Fukuoka.

In this book, Masanobu espouses a different method of farming with the goal of letting nature do its thing on the farm and to intervene as little as possible. There is still lots of work to do in order to make the farm produce an income to support itself and its workers, but the work is of a different sort. Specifically, it does not involve 1) cultivation, 2) fertilizing, 3) weeding, and 4) pesticides. If you are growing grains, fruits, and vegetables, then not having to engage in activities related to the above 4 practices leaves you with some serious time on your hands in order to engage in other activities around the farm (like enjoying and connecting with it instead of always working it).

Masanobu's approach was to find methods of growing grains, vegetables, and fruits that produced a yeild yet did not require all the work we normally put into growing them. His not-so-hidden agenda was to demonstrate that by working with Nature instead of trying to control it through reductionist science, you were able to get comparable if not better yields with alot less work and a whole host of benefits that you don't get through a western science approach (richer soil, more biodiversity, healthier plants, clean water, spiritual connection, etc...).

There is a very deep vein of skepticism in the book about our ability to know the world through our mental models which is probably why it has not received the degree of serious study that it should have in philosophy, agriculture, and, I would argue, business. His critique of the pretensions of western scientific knowledge is one of the most devastating I have ever read. Forget Wittgenstein, read Masanobu if you really want to have your conceptual foundations rocked.

The skepticism, however, is critical to giving into the natural way of business. If you come with too many preconceptions and scientific theories about how things should be done (and there are no shortage of these), then you will not be looking for or attuned to the natural vibe of your business. That natural vibe is found by observing more and intervening less and seeing what happens. It is found by questioning whether you really have to intervene, whether the work is really necessary, whether things might just take care of themselves if given a chance. There is also alot of experimentation to see what works without much intervention. These become your natural lines of business.

One way to explore the concept of natural business would be to think about your business as a garden that you are currently cultivating, fertilizing, weeding, and applying pesticides to.

The four principles of natural farming/business are simply stated:

  1. No cultivation.
  2. No fertilizer.
  3. No weeding.
  4. No pesticides.

Larry Korn advises that Masanobu is here using a traditional japanese method of teaching to stretch the student's thinking about farming. Masanbou's farming methods includes some weeding for young plants but ideally none as they grow older.

What are the equivalents of these 4 practices in your business?

Are you afraid of the chaos that might ensue if you stopped doing any one of these in your business? A certain amount of chaos is part of a natural business. It is a balance between your will and nature's way.

I highly recommend this book for its philosphical content, practical information on farming, and very thought provoking diagrams. The book contains some of the best systems diagrams I have ever encountered. Ironic indeed from someone who claims to know so little about the world.

If you want to learn more about the productivity of Masanobu's farm, and his genius, I'd recommend reading the recent article Fukuoka's Food Forest by prolific permaculture author Eric Toensmeier.


Redundancy Analysis [Farming
Posted on July 15, 2014 @ 05:31:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This is a follow up blog to my last blog, Redundancy Gets the Job Done. I felt it appropriate to provide an update to the hay making project as I made some pretty strong claims as to the importance of redundant capacity in getting time-constrained projects done on time.

On monday afternoon we had 900 square bales of hay in the loft of the barn.

We are about 35% done the making hay for the year. We'll make hay again when we have a good stretch of sunny dry weather.

All of our major pieces of machinery (two tractors, balers, rakes, and mowers) functioned without any breakdowns, however, one piece of machinery we didn't have an immediate backup for was a hay conveyor, more specifically, the motor on that conveyor because the heavy steel frame is very unlikely to fail. A bearing in the electric motor driving the conveyor mechanism gave out so we had a critical piece of equipment down while we scrambled to find a replacement motor. After some trial and error, we got a 1/3 hp motor to work (higher torque than 1 hp motors we tested). It was quite a bit slower than the 3 hp motor that failed, and it heated up alot while it worked, but it got the job done for us.

So it appears we didn't do a deep enough analysis of the redundancies we should have in place to ensure completion of the project in a timely manner (we lost a few hours in a very time constrained project). A hay conveyor breaks down so seldom that we were not thinking about it as possible point of failure in the process. It is an interesting point to ponder how we can become blinded as to what elements make up the critical path to completing a project. We can be blinded by the reliability of an element to the extent that we don't consider it something that requires redundant capacity. A more formalized process of mapping the critical path might have made us more aware of the importance of the hay conveyor in the process and the consequences of it not working properly. Perhaps we would have had redundant capacity in place.

We have an old 4 hp motor from an air compressor that we are getting ready to adapt to the hay conveyor. If we can get that working as the new motor, and fix the bearing on the old motor, then we should have enough redunancy capacity to keep going through most machinery failures on the next round of hay making.

Googling the term "Redundancy Analysis" reveals that it is mostly used as a label for a statistical technique that has nothing to do with project planning. Too bad. I think we should appropriate the term for a more useful role to describe a type of analysis that should take place before projects begin where we examine the critical path to completing the project and make decisions as to which elements of that path require redundant capacity. Redundancy analysis can get a bit involved because redundant capacity can also slow down certain types of projects such as software projects. We might think it is a good idea to have multiple programmers working on a project, and in many cases it is, however, as the number of programmers goes up, the amount of communication required to coordinate the coding effort can increase to the extent that it slows the project down to add more programmers (see Mythical Man Month). Making hay is a different type of project than a software project. I'll leave it as an open issue as to what features of a project make redundant capacity a good thing and how much redundant capacity we should have in place for certain projects.

One final observation. Why do most North American families have 2 vehicles? In part is has to do with parents both working and needing two vehicles, but even in situations where only one parent works outside the home, there are often 2 vehicles. Transportation is such a critical element of modern living that we probably recognize, at some level, the need for redundant capacity in our means of transport. Satisfying the need for redundancy, while having only one piece of equipment, is a large area of opportunity for many entrepreneurs and helps the environment by not requiring multiple copies of each piece of equipment (current solutions include equipment rental or sharing, farm machinery cooperatives, car sharing, etc...).


Redundancy Gets Jobs Done [Farming
Posted on July 11, 2014 @ 05:37:00 AM by Paul Meagher

During the summer months I spend more time at my farm property. I come in regularly to check on the sites I manage and deal with issues then return to working on some farm task. The next major task is making hay. Last year I invested $750 into purchasing an old Massey Ferguson 725 Sickle Mower Conditioner. I made the hay last year for the first time with an old sickle mower my father used to use. It was frustrating as the hay got caught in the sickle blade alot which required getting off the tractor and clearing the hay from the blade. The "new" sickle mower I purchased still cuts the grass using a sickle motion, but it has tines which take hay away from the sickle blade and sends them in between two rollers that presses out some moisture then shoots it to the back of the machine in a windrow. I tested it on a higher-powered tractor and it appeared to work ok. Yesterday I got two hydraulic hoses made up so that I can connect it to my own lower-powered Massey Ferguson 135 Gas Tractor. This is me testing out the machine for the first time on my own tractor beside a field I will be starting to mow today in preparation for baling on sunday, weather permitting.

This is not exactly modern machinery. My rake and baler are also old pieces of equipment but worked well last year. No guarantees they will do so again when put to the test. I could cross my fingers and hope everything works as planned but I prefer to hedge my bets and involve my brother in-law as a partner in this venture. He has a modern tractor, just purchased a drum mower, and has all the other square baling equipment as well. So when something breaks down, and it probably will, then the show can go on. The show must go on once started because making hay is an opportunistic endeavor that depends on having a forecast of good sunny weather for a few days which is the forecast now. Sucks if you start the process and can't complete it before the rain hits again.

So the general lesson from hay making that applies more generally is the importance of incoporating redundancies into your project planning. If you do not incorporate such redundancies then there is a good chance you will not complete a complex project in the projected time frame. Don't just cross your fingers and hope the gods are with you, have backup plans and redundancies in place that will ensure project outcomes happen within the projected time frame. Newer machinery also helps, but the old stuff can still do the job, might fit the budget better, and can generate more profits (because of less debt) if it proves reliable. We'll see....




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