Three Great Lessons for Every Entrepreneur with a Vision

Just a few miles up highway 96 from Beaumont, Texas is the delightful community of Lumberton. I was on a trans-continental bicycle trip this past May when I stopped in Lumberton at Raphael’s a restaurant on Main Street. The only thing better than the food is the story of the proprietors, Raphael and Anna.

Raphael and his wife, Anna, represent all that is great about America. They are living evidence that hardworking people with vision can still achieve the American Dream. Despite starting life in abject poverty, Raphael and Anna established two successful restaurants. They drive new cars and live in a beautiful home with a television in every room. Raphael and Anna are America’s hope.

Raphael was born in El Salvador. By his own report, he and his mother lived in a six foot by six foot cardboard box. They had no hope of escaping their desperate circumstances. Even though he was just a young boy, Raphael worked from sunrise to sunset just to survive. He owned one pair of shoes, a second pair was beyond comprehension. One morning, his mother took him by the hand and said, “We’re going to America.” They left their cardboard box behind and started walking. Raphael’s journey from a cardboard box to successful restaurateur is inspiring and instructive.


There are three distinct lessons for any pursuer of dreams and for every would-be entrepreneur.

    1. Be enterprising and hard-working
    2. Educate to elevate
    3. Be guided by a spiritual inner compass

Be Enterprising and Hard-working

For Raphael, the lessons of hard-work started when he was very young. By age six he was well into a routine of working from sunrise to sunset. He knew that survival meant productive work not just spending time. Entrepreneurs soon learn that punching a clock doesn’t result in a paycheck. As my friend Rudy Vidal recently observed, profit is the measure of value you offer to the market place. For an entrepreneur time must be used productively to provide value.

A self-sacrificing mother, in search of a better life for her son demonstrated the grit and hard work necessary to make her way to the United States with her son in tow. It wasn’t enough to start the journey it took focused work every day to accomplish the dream. Raphael told me that after he arrived in the United States someone told him, “if you want your dreams to come true, don’t go to sleep.” Meaning work hard, work productively.

Educate to Elevate

Not only did Raphael have to learn to be enterprising and hard working, he had to learn the restaurant trade and the business skills. He learned the food industry by working for someone else for more than 26 years! Once he arrived in the United States, Raphael’s journey to successful business person was marked by learning, applying and growing. As he learned more and used what he learned in his work, he became increasingly valuable. He was not satisfied to be a Spanish speaker in America. His dream of entrepreneurial success required him to learn English. His self-imposed requirement of English proficiency accelerated his education. He is a skilled critical thinker. He knows how to analyze and control food and labor costs and he knows how to communicate with his customers and make good decisions based on their feedback. Raphael used education to elevate his situation.

Listen to his interview here! 

Be Guided by a Spiritual Inner Compass

Researchers Mitchell Neubert and Kevin Dougherty from Baylor University reveal some interesting patterns regarding entrepreneurs and belief in God. It turns out that entrepreneurs pray more frequently than other people. Business owners are more likely to think of God as a personal, interactive being who is interested in them and their problems. For Neubert and Dougherty, “entrepreneurs simply have a more personal view of God than non-entrepreneurs”.

Our nation’s founders were also confirmed in their faith and belief in God. One example is George Washington who said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable”. And “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor”. The Declaration of Independence, The Pledge of Allegiance and The Star Spangled Banner all declare us a God-fearing nation. Entrepreneurs live it.

Raphael and Anna epitomize entrepreneurial belief in God. They speak of God as a trusting parent. God is someone they communicate with regularly in prayer and whom they visit once a week in church. Raphael confided that he opens the door of his restaurant every morning and locks it behind him. He retreats to a table at the back of his establishment where he kneels and prays with gratitude for all that God does for him.

Raphael and Anna represent all that is great about America. The dream is still alive. The ember of hope is kindled by hard work, education and faith. Three great lessons for every entrepreneur with a vision.

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Gratitude – The Quintessential Virtue

November is the month where Americans love to recall all they are grateful for. The increased time spent with family solidifies feelings of comfort and peace. We spend our time around the Thanksgiving turkey talking about what we are grateful for, but what does this mean for us in the long run?

Statistics show that gratitude enhances likeability. Why is this important? Gratitude is considered an “attribute of the persuader.” Likeability enhances your power of persuasion, and gratitude enhances your likeability. So, if we want to become more likeable and enjoyable to be around, we ought to become more grateful. How do we achieve this? A team of social scientists (Emmons & McColough, 2003) had this question, and took it upon themselves to find out.

In order to cultivate gratitude, we must first encourage people to talk about it. The researchers learned that there are three elements to help guide people in their discussion and awareness of the virtue itself. These three elements are as follows:

1. The person must be aware of having been the recipient of some valuable benefit.
2. The person must acknowledge that the source of the benefit was outside of themselves.
3. The person hadn’t done anything in particular to be worthy of the benefit.

The researchers created an experiment and divided their chosen sample into three groups. All three groups wrote in a daily journal, but their prompts differed. Group one wrote “I am grateful for…” Group two wrote “I am frustrated by…” and group three were simply told to just make a list. It didn’t matter what the subject of the list was. It could be grocery lists, packing lists, inventory lists, or anything in between.

Researchers learned that through simply talking about and acknowledging gratitude, group one reported higher levels of health, happiness, and productivity.  In contrast to group two and group three, subjects from group one reported increased optimism, improved sleep habits, fewer physical symptoms, less bitterness, and higher levels of enthusiasm! They even exercised more frequently than the other two groups.

Astonishingly, the benefits didn’t extend only to adults, but to children as well. Every day, children were asked to write a similar list of who or what they were grateful for. These young subjects reported higher levels of positive attitudes toward school and family. The older children even reported less acne!

This is astonishing. Simply writing about what you are grateful for not only leads to increased emotional and psychological levels, but physical as well! The question is, what does this mean for you? We implore you to take our Gratitude challenge. For one month, write down, each day, something you are grateful for…anything at all! At the end of the week, if you find that you had written down a specific name of a person who you are grateful for, reach out to them. Write a letter. Give them a call. Let them know you are thankful for them. We think, and the research agrees, that at the end of this month, you will find yourself happier, healthier, and more productive.

Now, who wouldn’t want that?

Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but it is the parent of all others. -Cicero

Strategy: Three Ideas to Unify Your Organization

For five thousand years human kind has been connecting, formally and informally, with others of the species. In the last decade, technologies for connecting have exploded. FaceBook, LinkedIn and Twitter are only the tip of the human connection iceberg. SnapChat, Instagram, Pintrest and thousands of dating sites testify to the human yearning to connect.

Our very survival depends upon our connectedness. That is a big statement! Invoking survival isn’t just for dramatic effect. In all of the animal kingdom the law of natural selection is the law of survival. Survival of the fittest is the observed pattern. Even before man could record stories using pictographs on a cave wall, the history of life on earth is written in the geologic record. And that record testifies that the fittest survive and all others perish.

For the human animal, connections increase fitness and survivability. In the day of the Saber-toothed Tiger, a single hunter became the hunted. But a group of hunters, coordinated in skill and effort, could navigate the threat of death and bring down even the fiercest in the neighborhood.

Though herds, packs and prides all demonstrate the power of strength in numbers, the human animal is distinguished from all the animal kingdom by one additional attribute—reason. Reason adds dimension to the laws of survival for human kind. When inter-connected individuals begin to think and act with common ideals and values they gain even greater power.

When shared values guide common purpose organizations are born and begin to act in a coordinated way. In organizations, each individual performs a specialized role to achieve a vision larger than any single person. Through coordinated action, the combined strength becomes synergistic—the resulting power exceeds the sum of each person’s labor.

Synergistic power is the goal of organizational culture and strategy. Individuals united by shared values, common purpose and coordinated action dominate their competitive space. Organizations lacking in commonality and coordination don’t perform at the same high level.

The good news is that every organization can be disciplined by a well-articulated and orchestrated strategy. Here are three steps that every organization can take.

First, start with where you really want to be. Capture the vision of the position you want to occupy. Write it, poke at it, refine it and write it some more. Talk with everyone in the organization about your vision. Your conversations with others will add to your thought process. Questions, doubts and surging passion from others can influence your vision and your ability to articulate it. Check out our SMARTER™ Goals guide to help you capture your vision.

Second, know where you are. This step is just like that big map at the amusement park, the one marks your current position with a big red dot and the words, “You Are Here”. In order to get to the place you seek you have to know two things. You have to know where you are and where you want to go. You have to understand the relative position of those two points. Use all the organizational facts at your disposal to understand your current position. What do your financial documents tell you? What can you learn from your current marketing activities and conversion ratios? Do your sales statistics clarify the profile of current customers and which products and services your customers want and need?

Armed with information form hypotheses and again talk with everyone in your organization. By the way, these conversations and those from step one can be concurrent. Posit, ask, listen, learn. What are your unique contributions as an organization? What are your skills? About what are you and your people passionate? Where does there appear to be opportunity in the marketplace? This guide might be helpful.

Third, find a way to involve everyone in the conversation. As you identify the position you want to occupy, the position you currently own and the road map to connect the two, building consensus will build performance muscle. If you go through the exercise without involving others you will lack shared vision, values and common purpose. It is your shared vision and your common purpose that provide synergistic lift.

Keep the process simple. The weight of complexity will extinguish the fire of improvement. Know where you want to be. Know where you are. Involve everyone in the process.

Disciplined, coordinated performance on shared vision and common purpose is possible. A strategic plan turns the possibility into a probability.

Learn about tools that Griffin Hill can provide to help you in your improvement quest. Take the Quiz here.