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APRIL 11, 2000


I Enjoy Being a...Girl Entrepreneur?

"The Seed Handbook: The Feminine Way to Create Business" takes a wrongheaded school of thought to its extreme

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When I first settled down to review The Seed Handbook: the Feminine Way to Create Business, I was primed for a tome of Cosmo-type advice: Recognize sexual harassment for the compliment it really is. Bat your eyelashes if it'll close a sale. And never be afraid to show cleavage in the office. I have to admit, I secretly relished the thought of reading -- and skewering -- such a deliciously bad book.

Boy, was I in for a disappointment. This book is actually worse than I expected. Well before Seed Handbook author Lynne Franks came along, no shortage of so-called experts have been urging women to exploit their innate nurturing, feeling, charity, altruism, etc. to prosper in business. (Buy their books! Attend their seminars! Tap the wellspring!) That message is condescending enough -- given the real difficulties many women entrepreneurs still have in getting customers, suppliers, and financiers to take them seriously. But The Seed Handbook takes it to the extreme.

Franks is saying women don't need skills or knowledge to succeed in business. They can prevail by wallowing in their feelings. The book's 224 pages of overly earnest psychobabble claim to empower women who need motivation to fulfill their business dreams. All it does is encourage them to avoid doing anything practical or useful. A male colleague suggested it was written by men to keep women from starting their own businesses.

DEAD SERIOUS. The book -- with its cosmetics-package presentation -- is so campy that I thought it might be an elaborate joke. Alas, it's clear that author Lynne Franks -- who proudly touts her entrepreneurial credentials as the founder of "what became the U.K.'s leading public relations consultancy" -- is dead serious. Worse, she seems to have attracted promoters and advocates who presumably know that successful businesses aren't built on self-indulgence. (The book's PR cites Nancy Evans, the editor-in-chief and co-chair of the board of the women's Web site iVillage; Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop; and Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda, and Bloomingale's.)

SEED, Franks says, is an acronym (used as such everywhere in book except its title) for sustainable enterprise and empowerment dynamics. The concept -- a mishmash of development economics and New Age notions -- supposedly came to her on a global search for self. The only useful information -- lists of books, Web sites, and organizations that could be valuable resources -- takes up all of six pages. The rest is filled with such irrelevant advice as clean your clothes closet, get up early, employ feng shui principles, and create a "SEED altar" ("a table covered with beautiful cloth and special objects representing your dreams and loved ones"). Then there's the incredibly obvious (read the business news every day, make a budget).

If you still can't get going, try some exercises, such as "Creating your SEED vision poster" and completing the sentence: "When I was, [sic] a teenager I used to spend my time..." (You'll find an entire form for this.) Call me cynical and unimaginative, but I fail to see how reminiscing about my tortured adolescence spent talking on the phone, obsessing about my appearance, thinking of ways to get out of gym class, and reading trashy magazines is going to empower me, or help me create a sustainable enterprise.

ONE SMELLY GARDEN. The presentation is as immature as the content. Illustrations include pseudo-childish drawings of flowers and hands, and blobs filled with such mottos as: "Keep the Space and Time to Stay in Tune with My Higher Self" and "Light Candles Everyday and Surround Myself with Fresh Flowers."

Franks uses a garden metaphor for her "10-stage SEED program [which] contains practical as well as meditative exercises to give you the confidence to trust your abilities, passions, and values, which will then enable you to create a sustainable enterprise the feminine way." The gardening metaphor is carried throughout the book, with chapter titles like "Planting the Roots of Your Garden," "Soul to Soil," and "Organizing Your Tool Shed."

How's this for extending the metaphor? This book has enough manure in it to fertilize many a garden. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go "give thanks to the gods of my special garden" that I have enough sense to smell fertilizer when it's in front of me. Happy planting!


By Patricia O'Connell in New York


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