$1,750 or $175,000-Plus – Questions to consider for your own reinvention in 2014

cap and diplomaAs so many of us think about new year’s resolutions to make, many mature professionals consider going back to school to get professional training or expand areas of their intellects that intrigue them. I’m all for that, if you have the time and money to pursue something that will benefit you – financially, emotionally, physically, whatever your motivation.

It so happens that in my business consulting work and the workshops I produce for executives in transition, the most-asked question I get is should I go back and if so, should I pursue an MBA. I’m asked that one a lot because I earned my MBA in mid-career, and over the age of 50. I had a specific goal and plan in mind, and it worked for me.

mba biz cardThe MBA is a hotly discussed degree, for anyone over 21 and up. However, the dollar amounts above, in the title, are not salaries or billable-hour rates but rather tuition ranges for one course – for example, a marketing course at NYU, and the going rate for a two-year Executive MBA program at a top school. So, considering that the costs of earning an MBA today are climbing steadily, executives over 40 need to consider whether the investment in an MBA will be worth it in the long run.

Add to that question, the increasing number of MBAs who are jobless, “aged-out” of the workforce, or under-employed, and the question of whether an MBA is necessary for entrepreneurs is the new twist on what has become the business world’s favorite conundrum: good investment or waste of precious time and money?

Following is a NY Times article that is one of the best I’ve seen on the topic. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get into Stanford or Harvard. Read the piece and decide for yourself, and share your thoughts.

Click here to read NYTimes.com: Assessing Whether Entrepreneurs Should Get M.B.A.’s

 

 

 

Power Station: It’s Time to Rewire, Reboot and Resurge!

If that’s your urge, then take time, take stock and take care. Then, take action.

Are you energized about learning and doing something new and exciting with every coming year since you’ve begun your career?

Whether your response is a yelping “Yes!” a tentative “Well, maybe” or an anxious “Not really, but I know I have to, in some way at some point in the second half of your life, you will experience the natural desire or face a compelling need to rewire, reboot and resurge. The economic realities of this century have eliminated the option of “No way” for most of us, because we will be working for longer than we ever thought. For most people that alone is “new and different.”

It’s not as impossible or untenable as it might seem. Whatever “camp” you’re in, I have good news for you: a rewire, reboot and resurge will absolutely power your life for the better. Just who am I to talk? In my early fifties, I was firmly in the “Yes!” camp of doing something new and different than my long career in marketing, only to embark on a series of soul-wrenching and workaholic career moves that challenged my overall physical, emotional and financial health. The experiences almost led me to believe that I couldn’t overcome even minor setbacks, let alone deal with bona fide crises. Making those career moves taught me a lot about resilience.

My resurge began in 2007, when I enrolled at New York University’s Stern School of Business to earn an MBA at age 55, graduating two years later, on my 57th birthday. Armed with extensive research I conducted while in business school, I started writing a book on how visionary, intelligent and motivated individuals over 40 drive and advance successful organizations, their careers, and their own personal development – despite the fact that many stereotypes cast midlife professionals as “over the hill” or “landing on a short runway.” Business school taught me how effective leaders get the right things done, not just by doing things better, but doing better things. Not coincidentally, I expanded my consulting practice to help other motivated individuals rewire, reboot and resurge. In the process, I’ve met and learned even more from other bold, brave people who are accomplishing more in the second half of their lives than they thought possible – even after great adversity.

Rebooting and resurging in midlife is necessary regardless of your calling, goals, stages, challenges, or roles – past or present. Whether managers or machinists; teachers or technicians; surgeons or salespersons; the fact is that all of us are CEOs – managers of our own lives. In carrying out our own mission and vision, we have much to learn from adapting sound business principles of good strategy (being effective), disciplined operations (being efficient with resources, especially time) and inspired leadership (managing ourselves and motivating others). We are all CEOs – with the “E” standing for enlightened, enriched and empowered.

Feeling the urge to rewire, reboot and resurge? Thinking “maybe”? Still in the “no way” camp?

Here are three Power Lines to get you going!

1. ) Whether your response is “Yesssss,” “maybe,” or “not really, but I know I have to,” you very well may experience a desire to do something different in the second half of your life. It requires taking the time to be thoughtful in figuring out what you really want; taking stock, so you lead with your strengths; and taking care, so you don’t compromise any aspects of your health. Then, develop an action plan to accomplish concrete goals and execute within a sensible timetable.

2. ) Figure out which “station” you’re in before you set a destination or route (i.e. your “strategy” for getting there). Here’s how:

If you answered “yes” and are looking forward to a new career, hobby, relocation, etc., but are not exactly sure what or how, then you’re ready for a first-class ticket on the rewired-not-expired express. You’re in good company: millions of people are determined to mash the myths, slam the stereotypes and bash the biases that older people are “winding down.” Yay, you!

Your route/strategy: Focus on what you really want, figure out what or who is keeping you from getting there, and whether it’s your own diversions, distractions, or other time management issues that are stalling you. Then write down all the things you want to do – in the next five years, one year, six months, all the way down to the current month, week, day and even hours. It doesn’t mean you become a robotic efficiency slave; but, without plans and to-lists, the unimportant “dandruff” in your life (emails, Facebook, Internet overload) will consume you, and you’ll have no time or energy left for what will get you ahead. Focus on “a-head” and get the “dandruff” under control!

road closedIf your replies were more tentative “maybes,” today there’s an abundance of “maps” – reputable information, sound research, and credible advice about why it’s beneficial to start something new and different, and how to deal with roadblocks. Many people who can’t or won’t get going on something new and different focus too much on their weaknesses and external obstacles. Laser in on your strengths – what you do well that you actually like to do. Strengths help you maximize opportunities.

Your route/strategy: Think about whether the pursuits you’re engaged in now are holdovers from the first half of your life. If you’ve already accomplished those earlier goals, then you really need to consider new pursuits. Either you regenerate, or you stagnate! Whether your new pursuits focus on personal goals, career transition, hobbies or community service, always be developing new ways to utilize your brain and maintain your physical health. The more you do physically, the better your brain performs, and a positive mindset accelerates exercise benefits, leading to more energy and more power over your choices.

If your reaction to rewiring, rebooting and resurging veer into the “no way but I really have no choice” zone, for you I have a special affinity and empathy. In this economy, financial and health challenges seem insurmountable. In fact, if you have to go back to work for the first time in many years, or you need to start work in a new career, new industry or new city, then it’s understandable that you’re stressing out. If you’re dealing with divorce, the death or prolonged illness of a spouse or partner, or your own illness, and the financial challenges of all these stressors, then you’re definitely overloaded. You may be too over-committed to sort out all the things you feel you have to do, let alone pursue new and different things you’d like to do.

Your route/strategy: You are the very person who needs not to rush into anything without first making a concerted commitment to build in private time to take care of yourself, so you also figure out what you really need and want, and what resources you need to help you. You have to make the time and effort to eat right and fit in exercise, even if it’s a short walk. You have to pay careful attention to your finances. Carve out quiet time, to journal, read, jot notes on index cards or on your smart-phone, meditate, pray, get a massage, a manicure or some other respite from your stress. You owe it to yourself and others who rely on you, to take that time. These are all coping mechanisms – for you they may be exactly the new and different things you need the most.

3. ) Dare to “arrive” at your final destination: create your own “Power Structure” and “Bottom Line” for the second half of your life. We all know that “power structure” usually refers to hierarchy in an organization. Your life has a hierarchy too – the Before, the Now and the Future. The Now and the Future should rule your own bottom line. Here’s an exercise I use in my workshops. Using one sheet of 8½ X 11 sheet of paper and a pen (computers and pencils make you think too hard and edit too much), write the following:

— a. Top half: Write ONE (1) sentence about what you dreamed, desired and were good at as a child (ages 10-18);

— b. In the same half: write ONE more sentence: what you dreamed, desired, achieved and were good between the ages of 20 and 40;

— c. In the bottom half and back of the page, write as much as you want on: 1) Your vision of the “perfect life” – when you look back in your 80s and 90s; 2) What you’re dealing with now that is keeping you from that perfect vision; 3) What you think you need to power up in your life – i.e., to rewire and reboot – so you can resurge and drive that vision to reality.

That exercise alone can help you see the many strengths you have and appreciate the opportunities before you, so you get going on your action plan.

Rewiring, rebooting and resurging help us to explore, examine and expand – creating new ideas, new insights, new solutions and new horizons. What energizes me is that the alternate route – to assume that I’ve “had a good run but now I’m ‘done'” – is so demoralizing I can’t even think about stopping now. Most likely, neither can you.

Yes? Maybe? No? Here’s what you need to believe: The power is yours. Use it or lose it. You are your own power station, in control of your own power structure. You are the only one who can take stock, take action and take charge of the rest of your life. You are the only one who can take care of your health, by making time to think, pray, read for inspiration, meditate, exercise and eat right. And, you are the only one who can take concerted action to make a plan, set concrete goals, get rid of the distracting “dandruff” that’s holding you back, access the right resources, stick to a schedule, and advance that plan to make the second half of your life even more powerful than the first.

Think ahead!

What’s the Big Idea? – Inspiration and Cautionary Lessons for Entrepreneurs of All Ages and Motivations from NYU’s Business Plan Competition (Part 1)

nyu sternRecently, I served as a judge in a semi-final event for the 2014 NYU Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship Business Plan competition, dubbed “The Entrepreneur’s Challenge.” The final event was held last Friday at NYU, capping nine months of preparation by hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs. Comprised of several dozen teams, it was ultimately winnowed down to winners in three categories: Technology ($75,000), Social Enterprise ($50,000) and New Venture in Any Category ($75,000).

Each of the winning ventures had one very compelling characteristic in common. (More about that in a minute.)Some of the young students and seasoned entrepreneurs sitting with me at the event were surprised at the winning selections, but I wasn’t. Having produced, pitched, taught and evaluated business plans and marketing campaigns my whole career, working with fast-talking money-changing Mad Men types, I picked the same winners the official judges did.

So, what exactly does it take to launch, differentiate, compete and scale a business idea into a profitable enterprise that attracts loyal customers, secures investors and thrives until such time as the entrepreneur decides to sell, expand or merge? From the official website of the NYU Entrepreneurs’ Challenge, the following are just some of the criteria, quoted verbatim, italics inserted for emphasis:

“…Not any old ideas. What we’re interested in are disruptive ideas, ideas with the power for great impact and influence. Ideas that challenge assumed boundaries and inspire a sense of what’s possible.

“The $200K Entrepreneurs Challenge provides you with the framework and motivation you’ll need to think and do what no one else is doing…”

Here’s my view of what the judges saw in this year’s winners:

1) Conscious competence – and the commitment, confidence and drive to turn an incipient idea into a viable company, i.e., to “scale.” By the time competitors get to the finals, they have lived, breathed, dreamed and agonized over their business ideas, making dozens of revisions. All of this has helped them further establish and demonstrate their competence, confidence and drive to differentiate, solve true marketplace needs and aspire to be the best solution to those needs.

2) Forget “analysis is paralysis.” In a competitive arena where millions (let alone thousands) of investment dollars and/or sales to consumers are in play, research is king, queen, and master of the universe. The winners demonstrated they had performed painstaking research into and testing of the differentiating strategies, operational levers and financial models that would turn their concept into a business offering worthy of at least initial investment beyond their friends and family. They considered every possible method for launching successfully, accelerating awareness, building positive perceptions and securing attractive customer bases, while also demonstrating they could manage unnecessary costs, fix weaknesses and address threats efficiently and effectively.

3) Practice, practice, practice, and be willing to take and apply what may seem like excruciating advice. The most motivated among the NYU competitors participate in energizing but grueling boot camps and multiple preliminary competitions, representing thousands of collective hours of sweat equity and brainpower expended. If it’s true that to become truly competent, one needs to have engaged in an activity some 10,000 hours, then I suspect the winners did that and more. If you consider yourself an expert already and resist the notion of all but the most essential business advisors, chances are you won’t sustain your business for long or you’ll struggle at some impasse where you absolutely need fresh thinking.

4) A truly differentiated product or service that answers a compelling marketplace need that the new firm can meet better, cheaper or faster than existing products or services. As good as all the finalists were in stating the need for their services and their differentiating competitive advantage, the judges rejected all but the three winners for the following reasons:

a) Unfocused or incorrect strategy: business models that were too complicated or too simplistic to make money and scale sufficiently.

b) Risky operations: underestimating logistical constraints and the inherent costs involved (among them, inventory costs, privacy issues and insurance liabilities); the team’s lack of industry experience; inability to address serious technological challenges.

c) Weak branding and/or lack of a marketing expertise: either too little or too much investment estimated for target audience segmentation, other market research and marketing itself to acquire initial customers, let alone build a brand that would scale, be sustainable and yield ROI in a reasonable amount of time.

So, what was the secret ingredient, the winning factor that distinguished the prize winners? Venture capitalists and other financiers ask a lot of questions regarding the marketplace need for a new offering, and the questions all boil down to this: is your business offering a vitamin or a painkiller? In a similar vein, is your business a pain to use?

nyu stern awardsThe ultimate winners of the NYU competition crafted and made compelling business cases for offerings that addressed marketplace pain. Take a look and see what you might be missing in your own business offering.

 

Radio Interview on The Takeaway: Shunning Retirement for Start Ups

“Shunning Retirement for Start Ups,” Monday, January 20, 2014

Check out the interview I did today on The Takeaway Radio Show.

“Older Americans are increasingly shunning retirement to start companies. Liz DiMarco Weinmann is 61-years-old and started Dare Force Corporation, which helps women over 40 to start new careers. Susan Price is 54-years-old and was laid off in 2008. Losing her job prompted her to go back to school for an MBA. She now works full-time and has also started her own side-business as a career coach. Together these two women explain how they made their career transitions and what the process was really like.”

LISTEN to The Takeaway Radio Show.

“The rise of older women as ‘encore entrepreneurs’ ” By Jane O’Brien BBC, Washington

bbc logoI am thrilled to have been interviewed by the BBC!

“A growing number of women aged over 50 are setting up their own businesses. Jane O’Brien reports on the rise of the ‘encore entrepreneurs’.”

Here is an excerpt, and you can read the entire article here: BBC.Co.Uk/news

The rise of older women as ‘encore entrepreneurs.’ By Jane O’Brien, BBC, Washington.

“Liz DiMarco Weinmann now helps other women over 40 to start new careers.

“Liz DiMarco Weinmann was sitting in her New York office on the morning of 11 September 2001 when two planes flew into the Twin Towers.

“As with many Americans that day, the experience changed her life.

“I looked out the window and saw the buildings fall, and decided I had sold enough soap and cereal,” she recalls.

“Ms. DiMarco Weinmann left her corporate job as a marketing consultant earning a high six-figure salary and spent the next few years trying to find something more meaningful.”

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