Recently, I had the privilege to attend a special presentation at Santa Clarita’s College of the Canyons surrounded by a number of my tribal friends in the budding community of SCV entrepreneurs. The event? A talk by “Paul Orfalea, CREATING A CAREER IN THE 21ST CENTURY”
Paul, an articulate and charismatic speaker, never gave his age (I’m glad, I don’t care! – I reject ageism!) but he sure did share a bunch of great information in a self-effacing and entertaining way! Paul started the photocopy service giant Kinko’s, giving the company the same name as the nickname of his youth. Apparently he used to have a lot of kinky hair, and hence the nickname “Kinko.” In the long run, it stuck as a corporate name; the hair did not (see picture). Side note – turns out that was a fortuitous choice because brand names that have two consonants represent some of the world’s corporate giants – think Google, Xerox… plenty more, right?
Paul started out his talk by citing the “good qualities” he possesses that set him up for success. He claimed:
- …to be a “bad reader”
- …to be “restless”
- …to have “no mechanical ability” whatsoever
At first I had no clue how that added up to success, but, throughout the talk he made the case – these personal attributes both formed, and set the stage, for his success.
A central theme in Paul’s approach to business and life relies on his conscious choice of outlook. He repeatedly said this guidance was instilled in him by his parents. He sees a person’s outlook as a choice that can be either optimistic, or pessimistic. Do you look at the world and see “everything is screwed and and the world is going to hell in a hand-basket” (my paraphrase – not exactly his words, but the thought is the same)? Or, rather do you see “the world is a successful place, full of opportunity” (this is much closer to what he actually said in terms of a direct quote)? He stated this as a choice, and he emphasized that both may be valid. He said something like “both views are reasonable… one of them is better.” Still, it is a choice, and it is your choice to make. The take away is that if your view is the latter, you are much more likely to see, seize, and capitalize on the abundance of opportunity that surround us.
As far as characterizing his role as CEO he said his job boiled down to three things:
- “…motivate (your) workers…”
- “…understand (your) customer…”, and,
- “…balance the books.”
A corollary to this summary was that is was “management’s job is to remove obstacles (for workers)” Associated with this notion was a decision he made to empower workers at all levels with the authority to solve problems (for customers) without having to defer to those up the management chain. This makes for a happy customer and can benefit the “co-worker” by giving them certain autonomy that promotes job satisfaction. I used the word co-worker instead of employee because several times Paul said he prefers the former descriptor; I did not catch his reasoning on this, but I accepted it as part of the corporate culture as he chose to set it.
Somewhere in the third portion of the talk Paul touched on a philosophical subject of great personal importance to me – the notion of seeking to be present , or as he put it, to “always be in the moment.” The subject is out-of-scope for this blurby blog post, but I will attempt a clumsy summary for the sake of completeness. He said we are born into the world living fully in the moment; we know nothing other than the now. Somewhere along the way though society imposes, for its own purposes the ideas of past, present, and future. Life ONLY happens in the present and much of our own anxieties stem from dwelling on regrets from the past, or worry about the future. Dwelling on an unchangeable past, and worrying about a future that may never happen is very detrimental. Not only is it detrimental, but it necessarily comes at the expense of our ability to experience the present moment, whatever it holds, either good, or bad. Clearly this factors into how Paul conducts himself, both is life and in business.
For me and many others the path to learning to live in the moment is facilitated by the practice of meditation. I am by no means an expert in this, but if you are interested in learning more about the reasoning for, and practice of meditation, I recommend the books, The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts, and 8 Minute Meditation, by Victor Davich.
Paul wrapped up with a Q & A session, responding to those in the audience with courage enough to pose a question. I myself had a question, but I also had a galloping heart as I contemplated speaking from my forth row aisle seat. In the spirit of living in the moment, though, I took a few deep cleansing, meditative breaths and issued forth my query. I asked, to the effect, “do you have any advice for those among who are motivated to become entrepreneurs having already completed a career as an corporate employee.” In essence I was asking if it was even practical to start over in such a circumstance.
Paul carefully considered my question, and gave a thorough, thoughtful response. Conveniently though, despite many words of encouragement, his response can be summarized as “just do it!” Good stuff.
I have a great time, and learned a lot; I think the rest of my cohort did as well. Thanks to College of the Canyons and to Paul Orfalea for an entertaining and informative talk!
PS#1 – regarding “my tribal friends in the budding community of Santa Clarita entrepreneurs”, I am active in three local groups – please check them out, they are all great! EngageSCV, Open Coffee Santa Clarita, and, SCV Startup
PS#2 – you curious what I am up to? Check it out: