Tag Archives: Penelope Trunk

Is ‘Do What You Love’ Just a Myth? Does it Matter?

The ‘do what you love’ lore in entrepreneurship is one of the most-often-misunderstood and most-often repeated mottos. There’s truth in the core idea. The business you build should reflect your strengths and weaknesses, and yes, what you like to do. But life isn’t that simple. heart golden egg

Obviously, when you set out to build a business, just doing what you love isn’t enough. It has to be something people want or need. It has to be something people will pay for. I love skiing and hiking and playing the guitar, but I couldn’t make money on any one of them. People will never pay me to ski or hike or play guitar.

On the other hand, you don’t just pick from a menu of hot new business ideas. You look at a mirror and consider who you are, what you like to do, and what you’re good at, not to mention what resources you have. All of that matters a great deal.

I always liked the advice of a professor at Notre Dame who suggested you should choose your major in college as if you were going to die the day after graduation. The idea is that what you like to study is the best way to choose which path you’re going to take later on. It reflects your nature, and, we hope, what you’re good at.

Last week Penelope Trunk posted worst career advice: do what you love on BNET. I hate that title because it oversimplifies the truth. But she ends up making sense, at least it does if you don’t take her title literally. It’s not really bad advice in the sense it’s normally meant.

First, she redefines ‘doing what you love’ in career terms as doing whatever you love most, something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid. That is not the real point. It’s taking the idea to an extreme:

So you will say, “But look. Now you are getting paid to do what you love. You are so lucky.” But it’s not true. I mean, there are things I enjoy more, and I discover new things I love all the time.

I like where she ends up, though:

Here’s some practical advice: Do not what you love; do what you are.

Which takes us back to the real truth. If you’re going to start your own business, it’s going to be work, there are going to be hard times, and you’re going to have to do a lot of grunt work. It helps if you’re in an activity or business area you like. And you’re doing something related to your strengths and weaknesses.

Most of the time, you like the things you’re better at. And, no matter what you do, it won’t always be fun.

Business Journalism Problem: Good Advice is Boring

I posted here yesterday about a Jay Goltz’ “Cash is Not King” post on NYTimes. I said:

So what’s up with this? Is it just man bites dog, good journalism because it’s surprising, reversing standard wisdom?

Yes, it is: good journalism, not-so-good business writing, because it’s playing to a catchy headline. It surprises people. He contradicts the “cash is king” thing for that post, but here’s the same Jay Goltz earlier this year:

Cash flow is not the same thing as profitability. Cash gets stuck in places — inventory, receivables, fixed assets, debt repayment. Hence the lack of flow. You need to get a handle on your cash flow as well as your profitability. Companies go broke because they run out of cash. Cash is king. Cash flow is a dictator. It will dictate your success.

So true. So why did he post “cash is not king” last week? Because it works. He does make a valid point, despite the upside-down title.

This kind of thing happens a lot. Business plan bashing, for example, goes on all the time, still, because not planning is contrarian, and trendy. I posted here just a couple of months ago about how I suspect a smart person like Penelope Trunk gives bad advice on purpose, to be controversial, for the sake of blog traffic.

I don’t know that it’s even all that bad. Maybe it makes us think. I probably do it when I can, as long as I turn it around, like Jay Goltz did, by the end of the post.

I’m just saying it’s there and it happens all the time.

(Image: courtesy of www.funagain.com)

Women in Entrepreneurship and Controversy in Blogging

It’s pretty much common knowledge that there are far fewer women than men running high-tech high-end (meaning visible, getting buzz, getting investment) startups. That’s bad news, right? I thought it was obvious. 

But apparently it’s not obvious. Say, what?

Well, for example, there’s Penelope Trunk’s Women Don’t Want to Run Startups Because They’d Rather Have Children, posted over the weekend on TechCrunch. She wrote:

There’s a reason that women start more businesses than men, but women only get 3% of the funding that men do. The reason is that women want a lifestyle business. Women want to control their time, control their work, to be flexible for their kids.

So having a life is a feminine trait? Work-life balance is a business failing of women? I think not, but she says:

For men it’s different. We all know that men do not search all over town finding the perfect ballet teacher. Men are more likely to settle when it comes to raising kids. The kids are fine. Men are more likely than women to think they themselves are doing a good job parenting.

Wow. Do we like stereotypes? At least she’s giving us equal opportunity stereotypes, insulting both genders at once.

I think Penelope Trunk writes stuff like that for the same reason that blowhard talk radio idiots say the dumb stuff they do: it works commercially. Exaggerated opinions on radio generate listeners, and controversial blog posts generate traffic. Penelope Trunk is very smart, very successful, a ground breaker, a great blogger, and she loves controversy.  This is the same woman who posted Get married first, then focus on career as if that were her advice to young women. And Forget the Job Hunt. Just Have a Baby Instead. I like her writing too much to believe she’s serious. Do you think she moves to the absurd to make the opposite point?

What do you think? Do you think gender difference explain why women are under represented in high-tech startups? I don’t.

Read Vivek Wadwha’s thoughtful Men and Women Entrepreneurs: Not That Different on TechCrunch yesterday. You should read it. It’s nice to see common sense backed by research.

Yes, sure there are gender differences. Thank heavens there are. But they don’t justify unequal opportunity. They don’t explain the startups gap.

Vivek, on the other hand, makes two specific suggestions: first, when hiring, interview at least one woman. Second, include one woman on the recruiting team. He concludes:

These are pretty simple remedies. I am not advocating that companies institute any kind of affirmative-action programs or stack the deck against men. But we need to recognize that negative stereotypes such as the ones highlighted in TechCrunch can be harmful and lead to discrimination. Let’s not blame anyone, but let’s act proactively to fix a problem that we all know exists.

I second that.

What do you think?

Maybe Writing Isn’t So Obsolete After All

Just a few years ago I was mourning the loss of the printed word in our media-hungry and web-hungry society. Even people I really respect, although most of them much younger than I, were starting to show cavalier disregard for the English language. I’d grimace while reading something that mistook then for than, or they’re for their, or misspelled lots of simple words. The response would be rolled eyes, like…

Maria Skaldina/Shutterstock

why do you care? You can read it. You can see what it says.

It makes me feel like the archetypical grumpy old man.

Meanwhile, television news has taken over from print news. Newspapers are dying. And books?  Doomed. I picked this up in a 2007 New Yorker piece called Twilight of Books:

In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, “To Read or Not to Read,” which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement.”

But then — about 2007 for me, late, I know, compared to the web literate elites — I caught on to blogs. And discovered where writing had gone to; and where people cared about writing. Writing and reading are alive and well, it turns out, but they’ve migrated to some extent. The Huffington Post, the world’s leading blog, gets something upwards of 20 million unique visitors per month.  Blog after blog is about writing: writing well, writing better. I just looked: more than 10,000 hits on Google for the search term “writing blog headlines.” And I keep stumbling on blogs that are exhilaratingly well written. Look at Ann Handley’s Annarchy, for example (for a good sample, read Refugee at Home). Or Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist (sample this post for good writing, but you should know first that, like a lot of good writing, it’s dark.). And I read business and entrepreneurship blogs that are not just good content, but extremely well written. Seth Godin delivers a short beautifully written post almost every day.

Lately there’s twitter, limiting the writing to 140 characters, putting a whole new twist on writing. There’s so many examples of good writing in 140 characters that it’s like searching for needles in a pile of needles. Do this twitter search for haiku to see what I mean. And then I just browsed the tweets of the people above, and came up with this one, by Penelope Trunk. I didn’t have to search for a good one, this was simply her latest as I wrote this post:

I forget to tell the waiter to hold the bacon bits. Then I go wild: I decide a Jewish woman who dates a pig farmer can take a taste of pork.

That’s good writing. And there’s so much of it out there. I’m feeling way better about the future or writing after all.

(Photo credit: Maria Skaldina/Shutterstock)