Don’t squander the summer

Author: Dean Scott Beaulier 

Well, school’s out for summer. As I write this column, it’s our first day of work after Commencement. The temperatures are perfect, the sun’s out and up until almost 10 pm, and it’s a nice time of year to reflect on accomplishments over the past year and goals for the coming year.

While taking a day here and there to reflect can be very fruitful, lazy days and lazy summers are not in an entrepreneur’s vocabulary. Entrepreneurs are always exploring, learning, tinkering, and thinking about new ways to deliver value. Summertime provides a unique opportunity in the entrepreneurial process.

I’m looking forward to the next couple of months as a chance to prepare for another intense year leading our College of Business. While it feels like relative down time, I’ll nonetheless be intentional and proactive about keeping the creative juices flowing and moving forward.

Below are a few tips to nourish your entrepreneurial drive during the slower, summer months.

Tip # 1: Create a book list and stick to it 

Did you know that Warren Buffet spends 80% of his day reading? In fact, voracious reading is a habit of many successful business leaders. Entrepreneurs make constant learning a lifestyle and summer is a perfect time to binge. I suggest making a list of books you’d like to read this summer to hold yourself accountable.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership by Steven B. Sample. It’s filled with life-hacks like “stop paying attention to news” and “always make sure the decision on your desk is one you’re supposed to be making.”
  • Option B by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg. Like Freakonomics and Tipping Point, it’s one of our latest examples of research-popular fusion in writing.
  • The Complacent Class by Tyler Cowen. 1,800 retail stores have closed since the beginning of the year, thanks in part to the fact we REALLY like shopping from our couch. We’d rather look at our phones than look in our partner’s eyes over a meal. America’s trend towards standing still will have huge implications on business start-up activity, mobility, demographics, and more.
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Get inspired to take a road trip or at least reflect on whether you really know what Quality is by picking up this classic.
  • Staying the Course by Dick Beardsley. In this book, the author and former marathon runner shares his inspiring story of perseverance and grit, showing us why we should never give up! And, mark your calendars: Mr. Beardsley is visiting the College of Business on October 20, 2017.

Tip # 2: Network

Lighter schedules make summertime a great opportunity to get out and connect with people, either by attending events or with one-on-one meetings.

Make a list of people in the area that you admire or are curious about, and invite them for coffee or lunch. I always enjoy hearing people’s experiences, habits, perspectives, and advice. Be sure to go to any meeting prepared with questions and don’t forget to bring a notebook!

I, for one, will be out and about for many lunch meetings, for Drone Focus later this month, and for  TEDxFargo in July. I hope to see you at one, or both, of these events!

Tip # 3: Work

As one of my former professors and Nobel Prize winning economist, James Buchanan, used to say, “The key to success is to ‘keep your a*# in the chair.”  It may be tempting to use summer days to get a few more hours of sleep or catch-up on your favorite TV show, but that’s not what entrepreneurs do. They see summer as an opportunity to develop or acquire hands-on work experience.

Whether it’s interning at a fancy corporate office or opening up a McDonald’s restaurant at 4:15 am (which I did for several years as an undergrad!), working your a*# off in the summer is a good strategy for personal and professional growth.

Tip # 4: Get out and EXPLORE! Go on an adventure

While grinding away in the summer will set you ahead, there’s also no better time of year to get out of the office to get inspired. Great ideas are often sparked by observing the world around us and taking note of common problems. The story of VELCRO® is a great example.

George de Mestral got the idea for VELCRO® when he was out hunting. During the excursion, he noticed that cockle-burs were sticking to his pants as well as to his dog’s coat. Curious about how they fastened themselves, de Mestral looked at the cockle-burs under a microscope and saw that the hook and loop structure of the cockle-burs facilitated a secure attachment to surfaces. Viola! De Mestral saw that the structure could be put to use and now we have VELCRO®!

As shown by de Mestral’s story, innovations are often inspired by observing. The discovery of something that isn’t working, though, often requires engagement with others and distancing yourself from the problem. So, this summer, be sure to get out and live!

It’s summertime, and the living should be easy. But, this time of year is often one where too many people take things a little too easy. That’s a shame but also an opportunity for those who find that sweet spot between fun and focus. Good luck in finding that balance for yourself!