Bringing a Little Indiana Jones to the Dilbert Cube with Dr. Marlo Rencher

Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:20:49] You know, part of it part of it is in teaching and in talking. I mean, some of those things kind of blur for me right at the end of right out. As I was graduating, I did a TED talk on the things that were that that I discovered in my in my dissertation and crafting that TED talk, you know, trying it out with other people was really a clarifying moment for me because I’m in the entrepreneur ecosystem locally. I was able to bring some of the things that I discovered into conversations in the ecosystem. And they were just it was a different perspective from most folks who don’t have the same kind of training. So those are the things that help me to be able to contrast what I know from what is known and able to help me bring some value to that.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:21:48] Yeah, that’s that’s. I appreciate that notion of teaching as being a valuable learning tool. You mentioned the TED talk. How… I understand that they’re really good about helping you practice and craft and refine. What was your experience like in that process?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:22:07] So I did Ted X not like regular TED. Right. But in that process, you know, when I was a lot younger, like an undergrad days, something told me that I was going to have to learn how to speak publicly a lot. So I got the distinction of just learning how to practice speaking in front of a lot of people. And so naturally, I started doing a lot of practice with that and that involved. So I usually have a group of people that I might go and try to talk with. And so that helped me to gain some perspective around it and even just kind of crafting the talk because you really have to. Get beyond all that, the kind of anthropological lingo and get to something real and relatable to people. It helped me to distill all of the things that I got into. I could now have like two sentences that I can say this is what I learned. Yeah. From my dissertation. And and that that was really this really helpful and something of something I talk about all the time, even now.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:23:26] And that’s really important is to understand what the key takeaways are for not just the colleagues, you know, people who are anthropologists and who are into all the lingo. But for somebody you meet on the street, we used to have when I was an undergrad, I was an undergrad in physics and math, double major. And in physics, we talked about this thing that we call the grandma theorem. And it was that you don’t really understand something until you can explain it to your grandmother. Yeah, and that wasn’t to say that your grandmother is, you know, intellectually inferior or anything like that, just that your grandmother probably wasn’t a theoretical physicist, which. You know, statistically is probably pretty likely right. And that notion of being able to take something that is complicated and really involve an intricate and, you know, you’re banging your head on the details all the time and to be able to come back from that and say, here’s what’s really going on, I think is is so important in that same sort of genre of science. I really like Neil deGrasse Tyson in the talks that he is familiar with him. He does a really good job of of knowing the things. And I’m pretty sure that anybody who wanted to go deep and get into the equations and all that kind of stuff, I’m pretty sure he would be fine with that. But he doesn’t do that in his talk and he provides tremendous value in his talks from being able to just communicate things in a way that’s clear to a wide audience. So I think it’s a very, very valuable lesson for anybody who’s going through this doctoral process to spend a little bit of time thinking about. Why is this important? What is it that we’re getting from this?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:25:18] Yes, and just knowing who you’re doing it for. And, you know, I’m interested in these things myself personally, but I use this to help entrepreneurs. And if I keep it, you know, if I keep that under understanding, then it is much easier to communicate the value.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:25:39] That’s true, too, when we we work with with folks who have gotten through and earned their doctoral degree and they’re wanting to to build a business. And in the expert space, they want to be a coach or a consultant or something like that. That’s one of the things that we talk about in creating that platform, number one. Who are you talking to? You know, you need to know who that person is and you need to know them in detail so that you know how to talk to them, you know what their concerns are, what their problems are, and what sort of things are going to resonate with them. And so with the dissertation, it’s it’s a different thing. But once you start communicating to people sort of in public, then you really, really want to make sure that you know who you’re talking to. Because for most people. Well, I would say this is almost true universally, if you’re ever talking to everybody, when you’re talking to nobody to figure out who your audience is and and really what’s what’s going on, even to the point when you’re your message is as broad as a politician’s…well still, they tend to talk to people who kind of agree with them and they just hope that they can convince enough people to be in that audience that they’re going to get elected. But even with the message that broad, they’re not talking to everybody. You know, people who are saying that, you know, note your policies are completely wrong and I don’t agree with them and I never will. We’re just not going to talk to you. We’re going to talk to the people who are who we think we have a chance of, of convincing. And we’re going to agree with this. So that notion of who you’re talking to and and crafting a message for them is really, really important. Absolutely. Well, tell me now that you you mentioned that. That it was really important to to find that message for entrepreneurs. What was it that you that you learned in your dissertation? You mentioned you had a couple of sentences. And how is that affecting your work now?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:27:50] So you broke up a little bit at the end, it’s probably on my end, but sorry,.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:27:56] I’ll just say again, you mentioned that idea of getting your message of being able to distill it is being very important. And I’m wondering, what was that message? What did you learn in that dissertation process and how is that impacting your work now?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:28:10] So what I was particularly concerned with was high growth, tech based entrepreneurship. And what I learned is that in the very beginning of starting a startup. The business is basically a conversation, that’s all it is, and most entrepreneurs are trying to put material on that business in order to bring it out of a conversation, a spoken word, into real life. So one of the rituals that they do to do that is a pitch elevator pitch, very similar to is the central ritual of entrepreneurship and very similar in a lot of ways to like a priest doing mass. It is kind of exhorting higher, higher powers towards creating something new. And how that impacts what I do today is I direct in Detroit at an entrepreneurial place where we help entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs to grow. I direct the technology based programing there. So anybody who wants to start a tech business in Detroit, we are really, really great resource for them. And what I recognize is that. The pitch has to be really good. But then also that they really have to focus themselves on creating something that’s of value outside of what’s in their head, they have to get in other people’s heads. They have to actually start talking to customers. Right. Customers are really scary, scary people to talk to when you’re beginning entrepreneurs, but really try to break that down very quickly. And that’s part of what what all the study that I had helped me to do now.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:30:11] So you mentioned that customers are scary group of people to talk to. Why why is that? What is what kind of what do you have to break down for folks to help with that issue?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:30:22] You have to make a separation between people’s identity and their business. OK, so when somebody says no to your business and I say no to you, they’re saying no to the way you’re trying to solve the problem at that time. Yeah. So you have to make that distinction and and have people. Think of this as an entrepreneurial career and not this is you that you’re putting out there to sell.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:30:49] Correct, and that’s that’s really important. I know folks do have that problem with the dissertation all the time as well. You have to there there needs to be some professional detachment. I tell our dissertation students, you know, that there’s this common trope that the dissertation is like your baby. Well, the dissertation is a baby. You want to be not the parent. You want to be the surgeon. You want to be the person who’s going to do what’s necessary to make this thing viable. But the thing that’s going to be emotionally cleaved to to to every single decision that gets made. And the same is really true for a business. I think it is like a child growing up in some sense. And you have to you have to be pleased with the fact that the child can stand on its own two feet at some point, as opposed to have all of your hopes and dreams and desires from that child. That child’s destiny is not known to you at the beginning of the process.


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:31:54] It’s an interesting balance between being passionate enough to attract people to what you’re offering. Right. And not giving. Yourself away and perceiving yourself to be given away by but some of the decisions that you make with that business. So it’s an interesting balance.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:32:19] How how do you. How do you help people with striking that balance when the when the business is is sort of a new idea, when it’s something that the person has, you know, not not just do I want to go out and help people in a certain way? I don’t want to just start a new paper company or something like that where it’s tried. True. And we understand what it is. But I have a new vision for the world and I want to actualize my new vision for the world. How do you help people separate in that kind of context?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:32:53] I’m glad you asked that question, because I think that’s where high growth businesses, tech businesses, innovative businesses are different. You do need to give a little bit more of yourself into those businesses then than with other kind of business, like if you’re if you’re starting a McDonald’s franchise operationally, you your path is pretty set. Right. But you’re going to have to give some of your creative energy. Like another thing I learned. Like I said, it’s a conversation. But it’s your conversation, though. In the very beginning it is you and it has to be you until the point that it isn’t. You have to kind of give it away. So to answer your question, I would say they have to lean into the creative process, but understand that that creative process can’t be outside of the context of the customer. So they will have to allow themselves to do something crazy that nobody will believe in, use that passion to continue to. Iterate and create this thing until you find that tribe of people who are like, this is my thing, this is this is the thing that solves the problem that I, I need to get solved. And it’s not going to be something that happens immediately. It just I didn’t get Twitter for a very, very long time. I didn’t understand what they were trying to do, what I do now. Yeah, it’s pretty ordinary now, but but you really have to deep dig a little deeper in that creative energy, which means you have to take a little bit of yourself into, I think, innovative companies.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:34:35] So when we talk about that, as you mentioned, innovative companies where it’s an idea, you said it starts with a conversation. What do you find this? Where do you find the notion of revenue streams and a profit motive? Where does that come into the DNA of the business in order to make the business successful? Because I think that there’s a lot of research that shows and a lot of just ad hoc experiences. I’ve seen that what makes businesses really successful, certainly in the expert space is the fact that you care about solving the problem. You want to serve people. You want to make their lives better in some way. And when you’re passionate about the thing that you can do to make the world a better place, the money tends to flow. But in those models, it’s pretty clear where it’s coming from. There’s coaching and consulting and things like that. It’s pretty clear where that money’s coming from. You know, in a model like Twitter or some of these other sort of innovative platforms, it’s not necessarily clear where the money is coming from, how you’re going to make money doing that thing. And the idea of sort of clamping on or bolting on a revenue stream can can break the promise of making the world a better place. So. Does that does that make sense? Where do you where do you begin to incorporate that notion of revenue in order to make the business successful?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:36:02] I think that what’s interesting to me as a business anthropologist is that a lot of anthropologists feel like it’s selling out to deal with money. Now, I think that you should make it happen is really great to make a lot of money making people’s lives better. I think it would attract more people if they found out they could be multiple millionaires by making the world a better place. I do think that to answer your question, where the innovation in that case has to come is in business models. So when I say that, I mean, like, you can have this interesting idea. But what you have to really figure out is things like, OK, maybe instead of somebody owning this thing, they can rent this thing. And if they’re renting it, then what we’re really, really good at is providing a platform for them to rent this thing like as an Airbnb. So you find out exactly what’s the what’s the least I can do to solve this problem, get very, very good at that, and then innovate the way to get paid through that. So I think that innovative business models innovating the way to get paid, the method and the means to get paid and having that be. A little distinct from the problem, let yourself in, distinct but related is part of what we’re seeing happen now where people are moving away from ownership in things that you know. When I was really young, you know, stuff that you just wouldn’t think to to to to share with people like Uber is such a such an interesting concept for me growing up where we did not get into strangers cars and now I don’t even look at taxis. I’m really getting into my Lyft when I get to the airport. So I think just ask a question. I think the innovation around business models is where where some of that a lot of that problem gets solved.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:38:19] And when when does that come into play that. I guess, again, with Uber, it kind of makes sense that you’re talking about changing the model of a taxi driver, lots of these things kind of make sense. I’m trying to think of something that where it’s just not clear where the money would come from and no example is coming to mind right off hand. But I know that there have been things in the in the tech space where people looked at it and they weren’t making money for a very, very long time. And it seems to me like they never really thought about how are we going to make money with this? They just thought about this is a thing we can do to solve a problem, to make to make the world a better place in some way. I think you’re wondering if there’s a a switch, basically a discriminator that says if you consider money as a complete and total afterthought, then you’re going to have a lot more trouble than if you kind of make it into the DNA. That’s that’s kind of what I’m wondering is if there’s anything like that that you’ve noticed or that research has found.


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:39:21] Yeah, actually, I’m smiling because what many of you think about the Facebook’s and other large tech companies that had early venture capital funding such that money and not money profitability wasn’t an issue originally, is because they had the privilege of having that kind of funding as those as this tech space becomes more democratized and more diversified in terms of the number of people entering it, what has not to democratize and diversify in any appreciable way is how people are getting funding in it. So there are people who are coming into it. They’re not getting the level of VC funding that traditionally white males who are in this space gap. And so part of the things that I’m dealing with as a director in this in the technology space is and there’s actually we’re working on a program right now where we’re dealing with, OK, you have this MVP or this early, early prototype of what it is that you’re doing. It has a buy button. So you have a way to get money. We’re creating a program now. That is how do you iterate a business model that works? Because you’re more than likely, even if you have the best thing since sliced bread, you’re more than likely not going to get venture capital funding. That is more than likely something that’s not going to happen even if you have something great. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is probably a good thing that you’re going to keep most of your equity, so if that is the case, how do you create a way to get paid to make it work? And literally, this is something that I’m working on right now. And in a lot of ways, it’s kind of like. You know, the the training sequence in Rocky and Karate Kid were just kind of working through this piece. We are designing now this experience where they’re working through, OK, what’s the best way to get paid? Let’s figure out three different business models for this thing. Don’t just go with what you originally came in. Three different business models. What works the best? So it’s interesting that you ask that question because we’re facing that with this colliding of all the different kinds of people coming in, the the venture capital space is not nearly as diversified. So people are not writing these checks. So how do you create how do you innovate the business model while still keeping your eye on the problem that you’re supposed to solve? And and that’s what it’s funny that you’re talking about that, because that’s what we’re doing right now.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.