S2 E70 — Persistent Failure

I failed so many times at start-ups that I could pick apart most of their plans and presentations almost instantaneously.  But, that didn’t mean I wasn’t a sucker for ideas I felt would be sure hits.  Even after I left the SBA program I continued to meet and mentor some of my entrepreneurs.

“5”  Steve Kerr, 54:Stay aware, head on a swivel, as you make your way to the crossroads. Transitions are always a little more dangerous. The intersections of life hold potential for much good and bad fortune.” Libra

Hi and welcome to Friday’s Episode 70 in Season 2 of  “My Pandemic Year Natural Experiment” on this 26th day of June in the summer of 2020.


“The Tau of Steves: What You Don’t Know Could Fill a Book”

Table of Contents

Season One and Two are a two-year examination of how bits of wisdom changed during the “normal” pre-pandemic and then in this unfolding pandemic year.

Previously in Season Two, the Pandemic Year

S2 E69How Can You Tell Who’s an Engineer at a Party?; S2 E68Take More Breakthrough Showers;  S2 E67Here’s What I Didn’t Know That Will Help You

Related from Season One, the Normal Year

S1 E70Lingering Fear My Cover Was Blown; S1 E69Anniversary Trip of a Lifetime Deep in the Heart of Tuscany; S1 E68Overcompensating for Disappointing Results?; S1 E67Don’t Misunderstand Me


This is the continuing story of how I learned important lessons from the school of hard knocks. And it’s an introduction to my second volume of books I described in the previous episode. I had already changed careers and switched industries by following the future brought to us by technology companies.

Key Executive Advisor

He asked me if I’d be interested in becoming their Key Executive Advisor.  I learned I’d be heading up the region’s outplacement services for C-suite executives paid for by their former companies.

Clearly this was a major stretch for me.  Fake it until you make it, right?

Rose colored glasses again?  You bet.  I immediately envisioned a 360 degree opportunity.

Here’s how I sized up what I could do: 

        1. Advise executives by surfacing their unique value propositions, circulate creative briefs describing them, pitch  their 90-day plans during the round of interviews and hit the ground running after the negotiations. 
        2. Once hired, then have them assess the organization’s current team they’ve inherited against the new direction — with our organizational consulting services. 
        3. Have them define the missing talent necessary to execute their plan, engage us to outplace executives and managers that who no longer fit. 
        4. Recruit from us executives they’ve likely already met and sized up, that matched their new talent requirements.    

Rinse and repeat.

Easy for me to see, but I had nobody local to pitch it too.  

The headquarters was on the East Coast where those kinds of decisions were considered, approved, but more probably rejected and denied. 

Their motto I came to believe was stick to your knitting and hit your numbers within your own functional silos. 

So I washed my hands of the whole proposition and dug in to accelerate my learning about how to deal with executives.  Up until then, like sales, not a strength of mine. 

My suite of offices were completely different than space devoted to the majority employees from lower paying companies, cubicles with workstations and a generic phone.  

It mirrored the “mahogany row” they were ejected from — with an executive assistant just for them, with offices offering privacy with doors that closed.  We were selling a normalized service.  Come spend the same hours as you would working, but this time devote them to your job search. 

I delivered individual and group facilitated services at offices throughout the Southern California Region from San Diego to Woodland Hills, Pasadena and West LA.  

It dawned on me that for executives, who you knew and who knew you,  made the most difference for people at this level, so I created an online community for information and insight sharing which became a source for trusted referrals.

Just as I was hitting my stride the parent company had been acquired and after about 18 months began consolidating services, cutting back on rental overhead and getting rid of us six figure advisors in favor of those high volume cubicle contracts at lower rates.

Shocked into Venture Guidance for SBA

Usually I see these things coming.  

Not this time, though.  

Maybe because between advisory sessions, group work and regional office visitations I had been experimenting with writing my first blog, The Journal of 2020 Foresight.  

Having been outplaced again, I worked out of a rival’s outplacement office ironically resurrecting my consulting practice  while I spent half my time coaching wannabe entrepreneurs who sought angel funding helping them on their presentation, in much the same way it’s done on shark tank.  

I’d meet each person with a great idea, hear them out, conduct a preliminary intake against the criteria for receiving our free services provided by a budget from The Small Business Association.  

Instead of qualifying for a business loan at a vetted SBA bank affiliate that they’d have to pay back, we were there to vet their idea against evolving criteria provided to us by Tech Coast Angels — a group of entrepreneurs and former executives who agreed to pledge $50,000 each as seed or A-series funding.  

In a deck of 10 slides, after being coached by us individually, the wannabes had to stand and deliver to a group of us roleplaying the sharks and throwing at them curve balls challenging their assumptions.

I failed so many times at start-ups that I could pick apart most of their plans and presentations almost instantaneously.  But, that didn’t mean I wasn’t a sucker for ideas I felt would be sure hits. 

Even after I left the SBA program I continued to meet and mentor some of my entrepreneurs who failed to dazzle the Angels.

Defense Contractor to Disease Prevention Start Up

One of my former client reached out to be because he left the disk-drive company that built the corporate headquarters and experienced “Edifice Complex” curse.  He needed my help with his San Diego defense contractor client that struggled with a spin off.  

They tried to commercialize electron-beam sterilization of fruits and vegetables and hamburger meat to extend their shelf life — which definitely represented thinking out of the box, Jack-in-the-Box.  

Doctors had invested after a round of salmonella outbreak.  He had another client which was reinventing itself trying to both innovate and control their product development process. 

Too Many Product Innovations

I learned that the talent cultures that inhabit defense contractors are in no way the talent cultures that you need to commercialize a startup.  

And, instead of doing what I loved to do, facilitate more innovative ideas from all corners of an enterprise, too many ideas can be a bad thing.  

Especially if you don’t have a process in place to kill projects that go nowhere to free up resources — budget and talent — for higher probability minimum viable projects.

It was this last client who was located in the research park of the local university that required me to drive on campus for product meetings.  

One late Friday morning, after a Starbucks meeting near the John Wayne Airport,  I decided to take the afternoon off.  So I drove towards the heart of the campus, parked my silver gray 4 Runner in the town center and began aimlessly wandering. 

I strolled past outdoor restaurant tables filled with undergraduates and professors who like me were just enjoying another spring day in Southern California when a voice rang out, “Steve, is that you?” 

Synchronicity or Serendipity?

That simple question startled me and jerked me back from my daydreams to reality. I turned around, couldn’t zero in on the voice’s location and began believing I imagined it.

But haven’t I emphasized that particular moment when you realize all your hard work meets the probability that someone you’ve just met will recommend you for a position or client who has a need, but hasn’t yet crystalized the requirements until you walk in with a pitch? 

Yup, but for my ex-C-Suite clients I advised in the Key Executive program

But, this time it was for me.  

Another colleague wanted an update.  And, eventually asked if I wanted to work with her at the University in the Business School advising the Executive and Healthcare Executive students.  I aced the interviews with the team.

The Director approved a long-term retainer for conducting advisory services and for teaching seminars customized to Executive MBA students needs.  Basically, he wanted someone to create the program from the ground up.

The opportunity lasted for a decade which I view as a field test or a laboratory for the content in these second volume books.

I proposed a curriculum to the Director for him to review, “Why would anyone choose to come back to school for an executive MBA (and spend over $100,000 over two years) when you’ve got all they’d ever need in this curriculum?” he asked.  

We should probably keep this our own little secret, since the University is paying both of us he went on to say.

But enough about me. For today, haha.


“4”  Steve Zahn, 51: “As the bees get nectar, they accidentally spread pollen. Do they know they are the reason the flowers bloom? Like the bees, you will unknowingly cause beauty just by doing what comes naturally.” Scorpio

So, we’re talking about an organic eco-system that’s interdependent, right?  So if for some reason bees die off then the flowers and vegetables don’t bloom and seeds don’t fall and — is this what we’ll be leaving for our grandchildren?

Random ones that make me want change my sign.

“5”  Steve McQueen (1930 – 1980): “Of all the things you could wish for, an easy route won’t be one of them. It wouldn’t be wrong so much as just off-brand. You welcome the opportunity to get stronger and smarter through challenging work.”  Aries 

Haha, off-brand.  That’s a good one.  But I have to say I bore easily if my work hasn’t been complicated, complex or on the edge where the new knowledge you create and circulate, I check out.  But, every damn time? 

“3”  Steve Winwood, 71; Stevie Wonder, 69; Stephen Colbert, 56: You’re not afraid to answer the call of duty and, in fact, the best things you’ve experienced have happened because you both answered and went above and beyond such a call.”  Taurus

Really?  Not today.  So far, anyway.  I answered my call to duty years ago as an Army veteran, but I’m loathe to remember anything good that came out of it.

.“3”  Steve Howey, 42:Let no one, not even you, offer a limiting idea of what you’re capable of. You don’t know what you can accomplish until you accomplish it. Your tenacity knows no bounds.” Cancer

Hopefully you find this inspirational, uplifting and relevant for you today.  It’s not for me.  But, then it’s not my “official” Holiday Tau either.

“5”  Steve Greene, 34; Steve Guttenberg, 61; Stephen King, 72:You have paid your dues and done your time. You showed up how they wanted, so you know what that’s like. Now, you’re inclined to do it your own way, to show up how you see fit. It works.” Virgo

It dawned on me that making a living as an artist probably won’t age well when I’m old and gray.  So with family responsibilities I chose to write on the side — to exercise my creativity on things I wanted to do in smaller time slots — at night, before work and at lunch.  Now with work out of the way, I am truly indeed seeing how it fits and works doing it my own way.

“5”  Steve Kerr, 54:Stay aware, head on a swivel, as you make your way to the crossroads. Transitions are always a little more dangerous. The intersections of life hold potential for much good and bad fortune.” Libra

Here’s the added caveat during a pandemic — who knows how long this transition to locked down mode will last and how desperate we may all become for a normal life once more, when none may available on the other side.

“3”  Steve Harvey, 62:You’ve already done the ‘dance like no one is watching’ thing and now you’re into the refinement of movement assumed by consummate professionals. Because if all goes well, someone will be watching.”  Capricorn

Over these initial chapters I’d conclude I became good at interviewing, because I assumed the view of an outside consultant.  And war stories they cared about flowed naturally from my lips.  But once the deal was signed or the offer extended I danced like everybody was watching as I faked it until I made it.

“5”  Steve Nash, 45:The thing you didn’t think you had time for will now be taking up many hours of your day. But if it weren’t good for your personal development, you wouldn’t feel so compelled to manage it.”  Aquarius

Isn’t there such a sigh of relief when you finally land a new job, discover how the internal weather blows, and master those obstacles thrown your way in the normal course of your assignments?  Yup.  It’s the same feeling I felt tempted to follow allowing my networking and marketing activities slip slide away.  Hey, I just landed a long-term retainer!  And then out of blue the flow you began coasting on dries up.

What’s Going On

Literally Bottled and Set Adrift from KnowWhere Atoll 

    • @knowlabs followers of one or more of my 35 digital magazines organically grew from 3911 to 4073.




    • Saw the movie, didn’t realize that one of my favorite authors, Michael Connelly — his detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch book series and Amazon Prime series — also wrote, “The Lincoln Lawyer” which I just finished. Gotta tell you I can’t not see his lead character (Mickey Haller, Bosch’s half brother) as anyone else but Matthew McConaughey. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by: Holiday Mathis – Creators Syndicate


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