Thursday, February 26, 2009


When I started looking at research to decide what interested me, I came upon the subject of Positive Organizational Studies (POS). Building on the work coming from Positive Psychology, this area of research focused on looking at what good companies did well instead of diagnosing where poor or ailing companies were suffering (just as positive psychology focuses on wellness and strength instead of illness and weakness). I loved it, but in the end, I moved away from the subject simply because, as one professor, organizational behavior research often seems like too much "navel gazing" (meaning looking too much at minute details instead of the bigger picture). Still I find the mindset very invigorating.

This past week, I came across a book my mother-in-law had called StrengthsFinder 2.0. I knew it must have come from that school of positive psychology, and after reading it I saw that the author was a graduate of Michigan, which is one of the major players in that area of research. Since I love reading about self improvement and ways to help people accomplish it, I picked up a copy of that book as well as Strengths Based Leadership which focuses on using a strength set understand what sort of leadership style a person has. Each book comes with an access code to the StrengthsFinder 2.0 test, which takes about 35 minutes to answer before it gives the five strengths. My five were Maximizer, Individualization, Strategic, Context, and Futuristic. The leadership book breaks those into four areas: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. None of my five fell into Executing, Maximizer (my strongest) falls under influencing, Individualization falls under Relationship Building, and the rest fall under Strategic Thinking.

I loved that I wrote a post about potential days before taking the test, and so much of my result focused on my desire to maximize my own and others' potential. Maximizer itself focuses on maximizing strengths. I felt sure I would have other strengths, but the ones I thought fit me correlate very nicely into the five I have, especially when the five are put together.

If I had to boil the five strengths down into who I am, I would say it something like this: I like to help people improve themselves and their lot in life by getting to know them, seeing where they excel or have potential to do so, and encouraging them to focus in those areas. Basically, the goal of the book is very much the goal of my life, to help people focus on the positive and the good in themselves and make the most of it. Their research fits very well with my own experience: people find greater happiness and fulfillment when they work on improving strengths and doing what they love than if they focus on their weaknesses and getting rid of their problems. Focusing on strength often has a way of overshadowing or eradicating those very weaknesses. It might not make them go away, but it might help a person realize a better way to move past them.

One great piece of advice I got from a speaker about nine years ago was, "Sinatra never set up his piano." What he meant was that Frank Sinatra knew his talent - to sing and play music - and he only focused on those talents. If Sinatra had spent more time learning to get his piano ready, he might never have become Ole Blue Eyes to the world. As StrengthsFinder 2.0 states and I have seen, being well-rounded sounds great, but in the end, it is those who are truly exceptional at a particular skill or set of skills that we remember, and that we follow. People look up to and admire those who have maximized their talents much more so than those who have spent a lot of time becoming a jack-of-all-trades. Surgeons don't sterilize instruments and operating rooms (nor would we want them to) - they focus on knowing how to use those instruments in that operating room to remedy some internal problem.

Ours is a world of specialists, probably more so than ever before. I do believe in knowing a little about a lot of things, but I have learned more and more the value of knowing a lot about a few things. As I begin my career in research, I will hopefully become a master of my area. I might even become a name known for a given area of study. One thing is sure, though: I will never accomplish that feat if spend my time on too many different subjects instead of focusing.

-- Robert

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Almost Home

This afternoon or evening, we should get back to our little rental house, having been on a long odyssey. We've met wonderful people, gotten to know some better who I'd already met, and hopefully began some friendships. We each had our own highlights from this trip, of course, but all in all, it has been wonderful for the whole family. My wife loved seeing her folks, getting to know some new people, and seeing a new place she'd never been before. The kids loved seeing their grandparents, going to museums and parks, and the musical number played by one of the professors we visited.

That song was definitely one for me, especially since it was the same professor about whom I wrote not long ago. He is truly a gifted, amazing man. I look forward to getting to know him better. I think I will have a great chance to do that in the coming months and years, since I have unofficially accepted the unofficial offer as I await the official offer information next week some time. I know there are more schools to hear from, but I know in my heart I have found a place that can become our new home, at least for a time. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity they are offering me. The professors want to send me things to work on before I even get there so I can (quoting the professor) "get to where most students are after their first year before [I] start." I am still humbled to get such an offer. I know living up to his expectations and hopes for me will spur me to greater heights than simply working with just anyone might. I have had many wonderful mentors throughout my life that have helped me stay motivated to work hard because I respected them so much. It will be great to have the mentors and hopefully friends at this school.

I will write the name of the school on this blog when I get the official offer and accept it. I am just very excited to find out more about it and get to work. For now, I have about ten books to read along with several academic research papers. My future professor is sending me a book written by another future professor so I can learn and understand his mind better. He also suggested some great novels, and I thought I would at least give them a try, if for no other reason than to see what he enjoys. I've got three books I'm sending him that I know he will enjoy based on the collection of novels I saw on his bookshelf. On top of the novels, I'm reading StrengthFinder 2.0 and Strengths Based Leadership at the suggestion of my mother-in-law. They are short books with a large compendium of strengths in the back, or in the case of the Leadership book a compendium of how to lead from a perspective of a given strength and how to lead someone with that strength. It seems like something I could use in a future class, possibly. I love books that encourage people to get to know themselves better. Since both books come with an online code for a web-based test to help the reader find out his top five strengths, they really are a great resource for anyone who could use a little introspective examination.

I might list my top five, if anyone has any interest. For now, I need to rest up a bit more before driving the last leg of this journey.

-- Robert

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


What better topic for this blog than opportunity? But what is opportunity? Perhaps more appropriately, how do opportunities happen? Researchers observe that they come in three main forms: recognition, discovery, or creation. I thought I would define those in simple terms for the fun of it.

Recognition: If a supply (i.e., a product or service) exists and there is a demand (i.e., a market, people want it) that has not been tapped into yet, then that is opportunity recognition. If someone starts a business to sell bread in a town where people already buy bread, then that might be a recoginition opportunity.

Discovery: If a supply exists that has not found a demand, or a demand is looking for something to satisfy it, then an opportunity might be discovered. An example might be a new cleaning product that replaces something most people already use, then the demand for the new cleaning product is not clear and needs to be discovered through attempts to sell it. Alternately, if people are looking for such a cleaning product but it does not exist, then the opportunity exists to create it to meet that demand.

Creation: If neither the supply of a product nor the demand for it is known, then a creation opportunity exists. One idea might be the first cell phone invented, or the personal computer when it first came on the market. The products did not exist, and no one knew whether anyone wanted them. Their designers created an entirely new market when they made the product and got people to buy it.

Entrepreneurs look for any or all of these opportunities. Like the definition from yesterday, whenever the market is not bringing a transaction into existence that should happen, entrepreneurship happens. People who are looking for the chance to make those things happen are therefore entrepreneurs by definition.

-- Robert

Monday, February 23, 2009


Looking back at my life, at what first made me want to become a professor, and at what I want to do now that I am going to, I realize one word best describes what I see as my focus: potential. I want to help people, groups, and organizations find their fullest, best potential. The courses I first wanted to teach were about helping students see the value of service, but also in seeing the value of knowing what they wanted for themselves. Courses that help students consider their strengths, seeing what those strengths suggest they might pursue as a career, and then using their college courses as a means to get to that career as they build a skillset rather than pass a list of required courses.

That is what I want to do with my life and career. If I can find a way to research it and improve my teaching, so much the better. To me, finding the focus that comes from having a path has a way of energizing people, and afterwards their lives are so much more fulfilling as a result of that direction. To me, that is what my faith has always taught me as well. Finding our full potential is why we are all here. So here's hoping I can make this happen. I know the professors I plan to work with want to help me do just that. What more could I hope for?

-- Robert

Friday, February 20, 2009


Yesterday I received my first unofficial acceptance letter, with the real offer to follow soon. I am excited to know at least one place - and in this case, one place I would love to go - wants me. I am looking forward to hearing the deal, but I am glad to know there is one. I would like to know what some of the other schools are thinking now, but one is enough.

-- Robert

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Another Definition of Entrepreneurship

In that conversation from Monday I mentioned, I heard one of the best definitions of entrepreneurship yet. The professor said, "When transactions that should occur are not occurring in the market, that is where entrepreneurship happens." What a perfect way to describe something. Often people see a need unserviced and think, "I can start a business and make money to serve that need." Some businesses (like the one I presently work in) are formed out of the need for middle men in a marketplace - brokers, as they are most often termed. Brokers facilitate the meeting of two sides of a transaction - a buyer and a seller of real estate, a truck needing a load and a shipper needing freight moved, or simply a consumer wanting a product and a producer needing a way to get it to them. Retailers are brokers in that way. They stock goods for producers so that consumers can purchase them. Most (if not all businesses) grew out of an observation that transactions were being missed, for lack of a better term.

One of the most enjoyable class discussions I've heard on this subject was with the man who created the Multi List Service (MLS) for realtors. He had a friend in real estate, and he noticed the box of listings that seemed extremely unwieldy when it became necessary to find a type of home in a given area. He asked his friend, "Do you think people would be interested in a catalog of those listings?" His friend knew they would be, and so MLS was born. He knew nothing about printing at all, nor was he much of a photographer (the idea was to take a picture of a home and put it in a book with its relevant information on location, size, and numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms). He had a friend who took the pictures for him, and he went to work learning how to run a printing press, mostly on a trial and error basis. When he was just about to sign a one-year contract with the realtors board in his area, they asked very casually in a meeting, "Can you make it in color?" He agreed, but in his own words, "If printing in black and white is like walking across this room, printing in color was like flying to the moon." Still, he learned how and he produced his catalog in color. One lesson he said he learned was to get a contract whenever possible. That gave him the chance to screw up a few times without losing the business altogether. Some years later, he sold MLS for an undisclosed sum (most likely tens of millions). He kept the amount unpublished so his children would never know how much he had and therefore they would not lose their drive to make something of themselves.

I am now reading an article by the professor who gave me that wonderful definition. I look forward to finding more of his work, and perhaps to getting the chance to work with him soon.

-- Robert

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Personality Types

Melissa had a post a few days ago about personality types. More specifically, she shared an interesting tool called the typealyzer which analyzes the writing on a blog and suggests what personality type the author might be. For me, it said I was an INTP - a thinker (also labelled a wizard by other sources). For anyone unfamiliar with Myers-Briggs, they create tests to help people determine things about themselves. The 16 personality types come from the combinations of the four areas which each have two possibilities:
1) Introvert / Extrovert
2) iNtuitive / Sensor
3) Thinker / Feeler
4) Perceiver / Judger

Each set of paired elements represents two different ways people deal with situations, people, data... life. I love these tests, and I find the characterizations of types are sometimes spot on for people, but anyone that scores close to the middle on one area might find himself somewhat poorly described. For example, almost every time I have taken a Myers-Briggs test (two officially, several simplified versions), I tend to score exactly equal (or within a point or two) on introvert and extrovert. As a result, the part of an introverted type that suggests a disconnection with people does not fit me very well. As I said to my wife, I don't look at people as something in my way - I am much more likely to treat a new person as a problem to solve or understand, just like any other part of life. Once I have understood a person, then I can deal with them more appropriately. That's perhaps where my extrovert side kicks in - I love to be in a group of people, sharing stories and anecdotes. Once I warm up, I have a lot of fun with people, and I rarely get so introverted that I get completely distant in a group setting. That's probably why I think the ENTP type fits me better - the Innovator. I find it even a little funny that I make this connection - the type description points out the tendency to see connections in almost anything - but I notice that ENTP would make a great abbreviation for entrepreneur and innovator would be a great description for one. So my personality type might well describe the very thing I hope to research for the rest of my life.

How do I explain the INTP side showing up on my blog? Simple: my writing here is very personal and focused on my interests. Of course it comes off like an introvert, especially since my recent posts are about career pursuits and research I'm reading. I leave a lot of the writing about my family to my wife. That's why her blog shows her extroversion more clearly. She writes about things outside of herself quite often. What type did it say she was? ESFP - the performer. That's definitely something that fits what she writes about, but in reading the ENTP personality type, she and I both agree, it describes her almost to a fault. In short, I don't assume that a test can tell me who I am, at least not entirely. It just might shed some light on my mindset as I approach life and help me consider if I am not considering how another person might see it differently. I know one thing: I look forward to teaching students about the importance of self awareness, which Myers-Briggs does a lot to strengthen.

-- Robert

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Meaningful Conversation

I started to write a long post about one of the most meaningful conversations I've had in my life. It truly is rare to recognize in the midst of a great exchange that it will resound for years to come. Yet I had such a conversation yesterday, and I hate to write about it and diminish it. It's almost too personal - and certainly too boastful because of what was said about me - to want to share it here. Just know I had a great campus visit.

-- Robert

Sunday, February 15, 2009

First Impressions

We rolled into town yesterday before it was dark, so we got to see the lay of the land a bit. It looks a lot like my wife's home region, minus the mountains. The campus has many beautiful buildings, and there certainly seem to be some nice things about it at first glance. Tomorrow I will see the inside of the business school and really get to see what I think about this potential future work place. We went to church with the student who helped me decide to apply here and saw a professor I had met at the Academy of Management Conference last year. We also checked out some homes and found the price/value to be quite favorable. We can get a lot for the money here, in other words. This town definitely shows promise.

-- Robert

Friday, February 13, 2009

Outbound, Hammer Down

"Hammer Down" is an expression I hear in trucking. Hopefully it's intuitive. We are headed west today, going on our great odyssey. Needless to say, we are all excited for the trip. I cannot promise that I will be blogging at all on this trip, but if I find time, I will probably write my thoughts on my campus visit. It will be a fun trip, whatever happens. We love traveling together as a family. I am very grateful for the wife and kids I have.

-- Robert

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is Self Governing Important to Creating New Ideas?

One of the articles I read this week discussed the role of autonomy in the entrepreneurial orientation construct. Yeah, I know, I lost my wife with that phrase, too. So let me break that set of terms down.

Autonomy basically means self governing. If someone has control over when he works, how he meets his responsibilities, or over what he does at all, then he has some measure of autonomy. Obviously, most self-employed individuals have a high degree of autonomy because they get to choose which customers they sell to, which vendors they buy from, what to charge, what forms of payment to accept, and many other things in the course of running a business. Employees tend to have less autonomy, but businesses with an entrepreneurial orientation might grant more of it. That is the essence of what this paper argues, that autonomy is a component in the entrepreneurial orientation construct. Construct is basically another word for theory or idea. It simply means the area of research focused on EO.

Now perhaps it makes more sense why I put yesterday's post before this one. Understanding the meaning of entrepreneurship in the broader sense that scholars study it helps explain what it means to have an "entrepreneurial orientation." To me, that term means to have an eye towards new opportunities or improvements in existing operations.

So why would autonomy be important to finding new ways to make money or to improving old ones? Think about it. If an employee only does his assigned tasks each day because he has no choice in the matter (for the record, I mean no choice if he wants to remain an employee - no need to point out that everyone has a choice), then what opportunity does he have to share new ways of doing his work? What chance does he have to suggest new products or services to the business? Some measure of autonomy must be granted to give that employee a chance to find new and better ways to do business. Various articles I have read (most of them citing the work of Jeff Covin and various co-authors) point out that businesses with an entrepreneurial orientation tend to outperform competitors. Why might that be true? Because they give employees a chance to share new ideas for doing business. In the mind of Dr. Lumpkin and his co-authors, that opportunity represents means that some measure of autonomy has been granted, and therefore autonomy should be evaluated as a component of the construct.

Anyone still reading? Good. (No, this isn't Sesame Street, I assume the only people still reading will actually read those words... seems logical to me). The movie Office Space actually did a great job of mocking employee/employer relations through the character played by Jennifer Anniston. She had to wear pins to show "flare" (or was it "flair" - both words might work here), but it was her choice what pins she got to wear. One might say she had autonomy in her choice of flare, but not in her choice to have flare. I realize this example is extremely simplified, but at least memories of the movie can give someone a laugh. No, don't go rent it yet. I'm almost finished.

I personally think that having some measure of control over one's own work is empowering. The way many companies describe it is to be an entrepreneur with corporate backers. By granting a measure of autonomy - giving people choices in their work - companies can engender a greater measure of interest in firm performance. Job satisfaction would probably also improve, since most people tend to enjoy the chance to choose what and how they accomplish their responsibilities. I also understand why the paper calls for more research on the role of autonomy. Obviously businesses can't simply tell all employees to do whatever they choose. Some measure of control must be maintained for the sake of order and efficiency. I can add this to my list of subjects that interest me as I prepare to head back to school.

-- Robert

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Definitions of Entrepreneurship

The article I am reading today (I might write about autonomy tomorrow) has several definitions of the word "entrepreneurship" in it. One such definition from Joseph Schumpeter states that "Entrepreneurship... consists in doing things that are not generally done in the ordinary course of business routine; it is essentially a phenomenon that comes under the wider aspect of leadership." I like that definition because I see a clear link between entrepreneurship and leadership, and I want to study those things in my own research in time. Without a leader driving an idea, it never comes to fruition as a venture, much less a profitable venture. That idea is nicely captured by Agarwal whose knowledge spillover theory of entrepreneurship states that "entrepreneurship is the result of opportunities created through knowledge investments made in one organization, but commercialized through innovative activity in a new venture." More simply put: great ideas require a driving force to become successful ventures. I use the term venture because corporations already in operation can start new product lines, new divisions, or other elements not in their present business model and thereby generate a new venture. That is what researchers call "corporate entrepreneurship."

I thought these ideas would be a great way to explain to people who keep asking me "So you want to research new businesses?" that entrepreneurship does not only mean "new businesses." It more broadly refers to newness, in my mind, newness driven by an individual or team with an interest in developing a new idea or reworking an old one into a profitable venture. In the context of this blog, "profitable" does not have to mean increased bank accounts. Many small business owners find greater personal fulfillment in their endeavors, which would be emotional or spiritual capital. Some do a lot to give back to the community through their business, which would be social capital (there is a branch of growing research called Social Entrepreneurship that studies this idea). More ability to manage one's schedule appeals to many entrepreneurs - especially stay at home moms with online businesses - which might be thought of as "time capital". Simply put, the reason to start something new does not only stem from a desire to be financially wealthy. Dave Ramsey actually points out, I believe accurately so, in his book Total Money Makeover that most people do not start a business to become wealthy. They just want to do something they enjoy doing, and often that turns into a profitable business (passion coupled with effort can have amazing results).

So, not to be too corny, but I believe I have managed to bring my current endeavor full circle and relate it all back to this blog. I am "making that money" by pursuing a dream. Fulfilling that dream will give me tremendous emotional capital that will make me a far richer man than I might otherwise be. Perhaps that even qualifies me to be an "educational" entrepreneur. Whether or not anyone else does, though, this article really helped me highlight my own thoughts on why this field of research fascinates me and draws my attention so much. I look forward to adding to it soon enough.

-- Robert

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

No More Tomorrows

In corresponding with Tim Wade aboutour mutual plans to follow lifelong dreams, I wrote that there are no more tomorrows. I really mean to say there are no more "one of these days..." left after deciding to follow a dream. "These days" are here. The dream is on "sink or swim" status.

Few things are more thrilling. Few things are more terrifying. A leap of faith into a dark abyss without knowledge there is a place to land on the other side. That's how it can feel. After all, who wants to find out "No, you really don't belong in this profession." It's like training for the Olympics for years only to fail to make the team. But then there are those who make it. There are the Randy Pausch's of the world. They don't give up, and they live their dreams in every moment. They inspire the rest of us to think we can do it.

I hope this post has the positive ring to it I intend. I am very excited to be on the path I am right now. I can't wait to see where we go, and then where I go from there.

And I know already. Same song, ninety-fifth verse, this one's bad but so was the first.

One of these days I'll have something more to write about. Tomorrow I might share some thoughts on one of the academic articles I am reading right now to get my feet wet in the field of academic literature. I'm glad I'm able to read them in reasonable time and understand most of what is written there. Once I've had some courses in methodology, I should grasp even more.

-- Robert

Monday, February 9, 2009

Apology - A Good Sign

Today I received an email from one of the schools I have heard from apologizing for their slowness. The letter explained the financial strain creating greater scrutiny on all expenses, which makes for a slower decision process. The rest of the letter, though, really meant a lot to me:

" I apologize for the slowness of the process. It does not represent any lack of interest on our part. As we discussed on the phone, we are extremely interested in you. Your background managing a small business, grades, test scores, the way you present yourself on the phone and the way you have gathered information on academic research make you a leading candidate in my view."

I appreciate such candor. I also have a feeling that other schools might have similar feelings, which gives me great hope for my future prospects. Next week should be very enlightening.

-- Robert

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tick Tock...

A week from today, we will be on our way to Texas, by way of Louisiana. Waiting is the hardest part, it seems. All of us, kids included, are excited to be going. My wife says she's more excited to see her folks (which I can understand) while I'm more excited to see the campus we're touring (which might be somewhat true). Our daughter tells everyone she meets that we're going to see her grandparents, which makes me proud because it's my wife's parents who she only occasionally gets to see. She sees my parents all the time now, but in the future she might have similarly positive feelings for trips to (or from) my parents. Mostly I'm just glad she loves both sets even though she sees mine more.

I would write about other things, but my own little world seems to take up most of my thoughts. Between enjoying our new son (who is getting more alert by the moment but still remaining peaceful and quiet), planning for our trip, and waiting for other schools to contact me, my mind seems perpetually preoccupied. I find myself wanting to check email constantly. I also find myself thinking "Did I forget to do something?" a lot because of the preoccupation. I'm not exactly anxious, and I'm certainly not down by any means (I'm truly excited, quite frankly), but I am looking forward to knowing more soon.

Sorry for anyone still reading if this blog has become too much like "Henry VIII, I Am". I will try to bring my head up enough to notice other things again soon. I have plenty of thoughts on the craziness in Washington, but I see no point in commenting. Something is going to happen regardless of what I say or do at this point. We will all simply have to deal with whatever that "something" is. I do like the idea of encouraging home purchasing - for my own selfish interests. It seems somwhat providential to me that I might get such an incentive to become a home owner. We're checking into a lot of options in that area right now, but like everything else, we can't plan much until we know more.

And so it goes, same song, fifteenth verse, this one's bad but so was the first....

-- Robert

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Four Weeks

Today our son is four weeks old. It's amazing how quickly time flies by, and how much he has already changed. Still, he mainly spends his days eating, eliminating, and sleeping. It's just amazing to see how he continues to be a peaceful spirit, even when he's wide awake. Last night I held him for a while as he was awake, and he just looked around, rarely fussing at all, and that just to say 'Don't put me on your shoulder, I liked sitting up' or something like that. He's a beautiful person, I must say.

I'm also glad to see that his sister's adoration has not subsided (if anything it has grown), and his brother has grown to really love him. Our older son will say "Baby's cryin' " or "What's wrong, 'a'y 'other?" (baby brother). Both his siblings love to hold him, hug him, kiss him, touch him gently, or talk to him. Each child is special, and each child has a way of making us wonder, "How did we exist without you?"

Most of all, I'm glad we're making it so far. I am very proud of my wife and her energy as she continues to nurture all three kids and meet her other obligations. I married an amazing woman.