Entrepreneurial Time

Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time being is all the time there is.

— Dogen

Do it now. Things need to happen quickly. Monthly meetings accomplish nothing. Weekly meetings are the minimum, the absolute minimum. And that is far off the entrepreneurial pace. The entrepreneurial pace requires progress almost every day. 

When is the right time for the next meeting? As soon as possible. As soon as the tasks that need to be done in order to prepare for the next meeting can be done.

In a non-entrepreneurial environment, this doesn’t happen because meeting participants don’t have the time to meet again until, for instance, a month from now. The delay is unrelated to the tasks of the meeting. It has to do rather with many projects and tasks the meeting participants have on their plates.

The implication is clear. The Zen entrepreneur needs to be sharply focused. What are the priorities? How many things can be the top priority?

Google says “five”. This is not a magical number. For most of us, if we are counting entrepreneurial projects, it’s probably high. Bernie reminded us to lead a balanced life: spiritual practice, physical exercise, family time, relaxation are key ingredients in the Zen entrepreneur’s balanced life. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes Bernie forgot. We need to remind ourselves and we need to remind members of our team. The balance in our lives limits the speed at which the Zen entrepreneurial process can move.

And not everyone involved in the project is working at the entrepreneurial pace, but it is a beautiful thing when they are. At the center of the successful project is an entrepreneurial team. At least it’s much easier when there is a team.

What does the Zen entrepreneur do when the world leaves time available? Perhaps the most important I call “trolling”—  just letting the hook dangle, sliding slowly in the boat, talking to people who can stimulate ideas, reading, writing. These are the practices that can bring new ingredients to light, or suggest relationships between ingredients never before seen. Journaling, for me, is a particularly valuable trolling process, second only to conversations with smart, creative people.

And always there is maintenance work to be done. Emails to attend to, for instance. It apparently must be done. Do it last.

***

Working in an office without walls, key members of the team are in the room together most of the time. Spontaneous meetings are the norm rather than the exception. I call across the room for someone to join a meeting with people already at my desk if something is suddenly becoming possible if something is crystallizing. Things happened fast.

I lost a step last Spring when we shifted to working remotely. Time was lost. 

But then I saw Paco doing a trick. 

Paco says it’s not a trick. It’s being in the present moment, as our teacher Roshi Bernie used to say, “starting from zero.”

Ok, it’s not a trick but it is magic.

We would be in a Zoom meeting talking about a project and a name would come up, a missing ingredient. Without missing a beat, Paco would be calling on his cell to get this person right then, to get the input that would help us move forward. Sometimes he couldn’t make the connection but often he did. The sense of urgency and excitement which this way of working contributed could be magical. I have begun to use the Paco trick. Do it now.

***

Entrepreneurial speed is not acting out of anger. That is the big exception to acting quickly: Don’t act quickly out of anger. Digest. Sometimes by the following morning, the anger is fully digested. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes not so long.  Entrepreneurial speed is not an excuse for acting out of anger. Entrepreneurial speed requires us to develop the skills of working with our selves, with our anger, to digest the anger quickly. Then we can act.

Entrepreneurial speed is also not an excuse for impatience. This is particularly important for the social entrepreneur. The building of collaborative relationships can take time. The pace of the potential partner may be slower than ours. This often happens if the potential collaboration is a high priority for us but a much lower priority for the potential partner. This is almost always the case at the beginning of the collaborative process until the potential partner discovers the importance of the project for themselves.

The potential partners’ pace can also be slower because their culture has a different sense of time than that of hyper-manic, New York Zen entrepreneur. Take a breath.

***

And sometimes, the time is not right.

Working with others, respecting their needs, we need to respect our needs as well. Currently, we are working with an opportunity to replicate New Ventures Charter School, our transfer high school. A window of opportunity has opened and may close. Different potential partners offer different attractive qualities. We may love them differentially but the speed with which they are capable of moving may be decisive. If they cannot do it now, then they may simply not be viable partners in taking advantage of the present opportunity. No matter how much we love them.

Maybe the time is not right. Bernie said that. I understood him to mean something very big: that the forces of the universe can align for the realization of an opportunity. Or not.

The Zen entrepreneur is channeling these forces. For the Zen entrepreneur, time is always a key ingredient. Today. The Supreme Meal is the supreme meal that we can prepare today. 

Entrepreneurial speed: Do it now. 

***

Speed also means “keep moving.” This is the basic law of entrepreneurial inertia. We might better call it “momentum.” The Zen entrepreneur keeps key projects moving. What can I do today to keep things moving?

We ask Zen entrepreneurs in training, “What are you going to do in the next two weeks to move your dream project forward?” “Be very specific.” Then we meet again in two weeks and we ask: “Did you do what you set out to do?” “If not, what happened that got in your way?” “What did you learn about yourself and your practice from that experience?” If you did what you set out to do, “What did you learn?”  Then, “Everyone, what are you going to do next?” Ok. “We will meet again in two weeks.”

The point is to keep moving. Keep learning. Moving forward builds momentum.

***

Don’t waste time.

Management guru Peter Drucker warns that most executives have no control over much of their time. They are compelled to attend meetings and functions which do not advance their priorities. Lost time. Wasted time. Drucker advises against complaining. Just spend the rest of your time effectively.

The Zen entrepreneur finds ways to make these meetings and obligations serve priorities. How do I use “bad” meetings to get things done? How do I make them productive?

What I most decidedly do not mean is to use bad meetings to get things done, for instance by multitasking during meetings, answering emails. I hate that. I hate when people are on their phones or computers during meetings. I understand it. They are trying to make their time productive. They are often resentful because they feel they don’t have control over their lives, their time. I am lucky. I generally have the power to get out of meetings that I don’t want to attend, that I don’t feel are productive. I can delegate. I can send someone else. Others don’t have that luxury. But that is not the point, really. The point is to look at every meeting as an opportunity to move a priority project forward or to discover ingredients that could lead to new opportunities. That takes effort and creativity. And courage.

These days, I find myself attending a lot of business networking meetings. They were a great way of broadening my network of relationships in the community and have led to a variety of productive directions. But are they still as important as they were? 

Meanwhile, after the murder of George Floyd, in the midst of the justice and equity movement that ensued, we at ICS have been doing a lot of talking about how to take our commitment to equity deeper.

 A number of initiatives have begun in our schools to increase faculty and staff diversity and to address the subtle micro-aggressions that impact faculty and students. We are aspiring to be a beacon of diversity, equity, and inclusion for institutions in our community and beyond and to engage in this effort directly in the community. I can see that I have an opportunity to contribute to this initiative in the community meetings in which I participate. This makes my participation important and relevant, rather than a questionable use of entrepreneurial use of time. 

But this is only if I have the courage to speak up, to address issues of diversity in the business community and in business organizations which will make some members uncomfortable. Only if I learn the skill to do this effectively. 

Can I do it? Only time will tell.

 1. “The Time Being,” in Treasury of the True Dharma Eye. Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo. Kazuaki Tanahash, ed. (Boston and London: Shambala, 2010), p.105.