Small Business

In Praise of Affirmation


By Lisa Bergson Six years ago, I wouldn't have had the nerve to write "Factory Days." I could barely get up the courage to speak before my own hand-picked business advisory board, even though I wanted desperately to speak in public with panache, as well as to write and to publish. Now readers actually write asking me for guidance in such matters.

I believe in New Year's resolutions, for starters. I also believe in affirmation, visualization, and synchronicity. Before you dismiss me as some kind of corporate Stevie Nicks, wafting about in tie-dyed silks, consider the respect such concepts garner in the sports world. Pro athletes routinely envision themselves winning. Why shouldn't the same powerful practices benefit us hard-nosed businessfolk?

We're trained to be logical, deliberate, and strategic, I know. At Columbia Business School, we had classes in "Business Ethics" but not "Business Psychics." When things work, it's always attributable to long-term planning and effective implementation -- or is it? If you think about it, goals and objectives are really affirmations. Their structure and format are even derivative.

A BAD RAP. In her 1948 classic, Creative Visualization, Shakti Gawain explains that affirmations are short, positive, real-time statements, such as "I love doing my work, and I am richly rewarded, creatively and financially." Affirmations are akin to song, to poetry. They are prayer.

What gives affirmations a bad rap, I believe, is the fact that the hippy-trippy version doesn't involve effort. Things are just supposed to magically go your way. But "chance rewards the prepared mind," as Louis Pasteur said. And that preparation usually takes more than merely meditating. It takes action. To quote Goethe: "Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it."

For example, a very helpful banker from Brown Brothers Harriman recently showed up in my life. He went out of his way to connect us with the kind of investors my new company, Tiger Optics, seeks. To that end, my team and our accountants were already working hard to complete a bang-up business plan. We're first to market with a disruptive new technology that's generating orders and cash flow. "You're a solid proposition beyond the seed-funding stage," the banker observed, the kind of deal he can feel good about referring to his colleagues.

BLOWN INTERVIEWS. I'm confident we'll attract adequate funding at terms we can accept. Or rather: "We are attracting the money we need to succeed." Such confidence derives from positive thinking. You need confidence and clarity to identify and take advantage of the opportunities fate accords you. In her helpful book, The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron describes synchronicity as "answered prayers" or the "fortuitous intermeshing of events."

Nervous and insecure, I once stumbled on the threshold of so many open doors. In my journalism days, I blew job interviews with The New York Times and National Public Radio, as well as my second career-making assignment with The New York Times Magazine. I became blocked, tongue-tied, and hesitant, embarrassed by my anxiety-induced cold, clammy hands. Cameron blames "fear -- fear of success or fear of failure" for these "Creative U-Turns."

Only after years of hypnotherapy -- induced visualization and affirmation -- am I able to pursue the options before me. With my doctor's help, my hands are now warm and dry, and my attitude is game. "I can do this," I assure myself before vaulting each new hurdle. Last week, for instance, I didn't hesitate to start calling the investors my Brown Brothers contact had mentioned. I even refused to allow some of their condescending attitudes to dissuade me.

TRY AFFIRMING. By contrast, I have a young friend who can get into any college (truly, any college) because she not only has impeccable grades and outstanding accomplishments but, as she says, "I interview well." Trouble is, she has no idea what she wants to do or be in life.

This wouldn't be so bad if she could accept the discomfort of uncertainty. But so far, the great schools have been nothing but revolving doors as she reverts to the comfort of home and old friends. I wish she could live with a little more confusion since it seems like part of youth. "I can try out many roles," or "It's O.K. to experiment" might be good affirmations for her.

In business as in life, as we mature, it's important to know what we're about. If you don't, try affirming that you do. It really works. Now verging on its third year, "Factory Days" was once but a dream. When an old friend from school networked on my behalf with BusinessWeek Online, I received an e-mail, "So, you want to write a column, Lisa?" This time, I didn't blow it. Thanks to you and the power of positive thinking, "Factory Days" is here again. Lisa Bergson is President and CEO of both MEECO and Tiger Optics. Before joining MEECO in 1983, Lisa Bergson worked as a business journalist at BusinessWeek and freelanced for many business publications. You can visit her companies' Web sites at www.meeco.com and www.tigeroptics.com, or contact her at lbergson@meeco.com


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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