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Below is an article I wrote for Christopher Lowman’s Moving Towards Peace newsletter, on why I think the current mess will be healthy for us all in the long run – even if it’s incredible painful in the short run.

Americans are dealing with the worst financial and economic trouble in decades–and, unfortunately, it’s going to get worse bhutan-hjumpbefore it gets better (sorry!)  Why then, you might ask, will this ultimately be a good and healthy thing for us, i.e., the ‘us’ that decides to take advantage of it?

The path to business success is shifting from one based on ‘promotion’ (i.e., selling to anyone, anyway, for the sake of making money), to one based on ‘attraction’ (i.e., growth based on making customers successful, which then attracts more customers). This latest meltdown is a necessary part of this shift, as it’s causing us to shed toxins and unhealthy habits … ultimately teaching ‘us’ that the old paradigm of business isn’t the path to happiness, success, and independence that we were trained to think it was.

Whether you’ve been laid off, had your compensation cut, or are suffering from a real estate hangover–these are all situations that can force you out of your mental ruts and cause you to reexamine what you really want to do with your life. As painful as it might be, this is, in actuality, a blessing-in-disguise … a unique opportunity to reevaluate and make a positive change in what you’re going to do with your business life.

Many of the millions of people who have and will lose their jobs will end up starting their own companies, ending up happier and wealthier for it.

This is how you can use the financial and economic trouble to your advantage. If you were assured of success and could do anything, what would be your dream business? Start by reflecting on what adds meaning to your life and what you enjoy doing or sharing. How can you practice those enjoyments in ways that are meaningful to others? How can you mash your enjoyments up (say old cars, travel, teaching, video and …?) into a dream business that combines several of your passions, so that you can make a living by doing the things that you love to do?

It can take two or three years to generate steady income from a new business, so maintain a day job for income while you work on your ideas a few hours a week. Just don’t stop taking baby steps in the direction of manifesting your dream business!

You can do it. I escaped corporate America to realize my dream business, and am now helping others to do the same. I’ve dedicated my work to helping people ‘make money through enjoyment’ and my dream business, PebbleStorm, is the vehicle for my personal mission. Click here to watch the replay of PebbleStorm’s launch webinar (audio improves at minute 20), or here for the slides without audio.

Aaron Ross founded PebbleStorm to help people “make money through enjoyment.” Prior to founding PebbleStorm, Aaron Ross was an EIR (Entrepreneur-in-Residence) at Alloy Ventures, a venture capital firm with over $1 billion under management. He is an Ironman triathlete, graduate of the Boulder Outdoor Survival School, and volunteer mentor at SCORE, “Counselors to America’s Small Business.”

UPDATE: a great example from someone still in transition: “Abundance Mastery: What I Learned From “Going Broke” by Claire Burstein

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As I wrote about in My original notes on frustrations with the way work, uh, works, PebbleStorm: CEOFlow is like “advanced PebbleStorm”. I’ve been playing with my CEOFlow circles for awhile, and finally this morning they really clicked:


That’s actually the whole post, but if you want to see the original, it’s here

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I’ve almost always been frustrated with our traditional expectations of how work and corporate jobs should function (even when I was the CEO of my own company). Back in the summer of 2006 I wrote down some different thoughts around my frustrations. These trains of thought helped crystallize PebbleStorm (“make money through enjoyment”) and PebbleStorm: CEOFlow (“grow revenue through enjoyment”). These thoughts started me down the path of wondering “how could I create environments without these frustrations?”

By the way, about PebbleStorm: CEOFlow… imagine you’ve already created your dream business and are making money through enjoyment. You’re about to be an accidental CEO with a whole new set of issues, employees and partners to deal with…fun fun fun ☺.  CEOs have special needs. The intention behind CEOFlow is to help you continue to evolve and grow your business, but without losing your enjoyment of it.

Here are the original (almost unchanged) notes from 2006 that I wrote to myself…


Why can’t we take the work out of work?
A few people live their dream – why can’t more?  I don’t buy it when people assume intelligence or drive is what’s needed for success.  Why are so many people, including lots of very innovative, smart and ambitious people, trapped in the rat race?  Example: the NYT article on “In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich

Why can work be so unpleasant?  When it’s bad…

Yes, a great manager can be an amazing mentor and coach….but all too often manager-employee relationships often feel more like parent-child relationships, and put too much artificial power into people’s hands.  Why do so many workplaces not only tolerate, but promote controlling managers?

Working all the time in a corporate environment just feels so unproductive (not to confuse activity with productivity).  There’s so much work for so few results, in the scheme of someone’s life.  You’re trapped there in “face-time” (as opposed to space-time ☺)…waiting for other people to get back to you…producing lots of ‘stuff’ to look good just because your manager’s manager’s manager asked for it…”Um, about that TPS report…”  Back to the trusty 80/20 rule: 20% of the time people can be productive, 80% of the time they’re doing things that don’t really affect the company’s bottom line or their own happiness.

As a rule of thumb, the nature of a corporate hierarchy structurally creates conditions for fear, wasted time and politics.  With a limited number of slots available to people, everyone competes for them.  This is often made worse by CEOs who want to see competition between their people, thinking it will bring out their best, when really it just helps create an environment of fear and control.

The past strategy of economies of scale might have been beneficial, but what about the benefits of leverage and nimbleness? Can’t a company increase its profitability and impact, without losing its soul or flexibility?

Innovation requires speed, thought, freedom and a lack of constraints – not resources, size or economies of scale.

More Frustrations

I never felt like I could be completely productive whenever I wanted to be.  In a single job, you always end up waiting around for things to happen or people to get back to you, which is non-value-added time.  So people fill that time with busy work.

The classic hierarchy, while useful in organizing large groups of people, ends up creating unnatural “parent-child” relationships between managers and reports.  Just like Zimbardo’s “prison guard-and-prisoner” experiment at Stanford, in which the students playing as guards starting abusing prisoners, managers frequently abuse employees without even realizing it.  They’ve lost their context.  CEOs can be the worst offenders, being the most out of touch.

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  So how can you organize groups of people, without dangerously concentrating power?  In the short-term, power gets things done.  But over the long-term, it eats away at a culture.

In one job, you can only make incremental increases in productivity per year – it’s very rare that you can multiply your productivity or make big leaps.

Corporate structures inherently treat people as cogs in a machine, and this worsens as the organization gets bigger.  Especially once the org is past 150 people, and people can’t know everyone well, employees tend to become names on spreadsheets.

People attached too much of their own self-worth to their titles. While titles can be helpful in the short-term in identifying someone’s function in a company and place in the pecking order…over the long-term titles end up putting people in boxes. People get defined by their title, and every person is much more than their title!  It also creates a reward system in which people end up politicking just to get titles, when titles are used as part of the rewards system.

Most people are put into functional roles/groups that focus on a particular area: sales, marketing, development, etc.  Sometimes people are happy with this (for awhile).  Oftentimes, people end up being frustrated because they get blocked when they’re ready to make a move to another role or try something new to expand their experiences. Companies don’t like it when people move from one function to another – it’s ‘too risky’.  “You’ve been doing sales here for 5 years, what makes you think you can do product management or marketing?”

Biggest bottlenecks in business?  Why is work so unproductive?

Lack of trust creates long sales cycles, complicated contracts, dysfunctional corporate cultures, politics, hoops to jump through both inside a company and between companies.

Carrying costs: you rent space, hire a bunch of people and invest in all kinds of fixed costs…creating beast you have to feed.  Work and growth become and obligation, not a choice.  Now you gotta feed the beast!

“Selling” is incredibly inefficient compared to “attracting” through word-of-mouth. Also, selling is just a pain in the ass.  Most business owners don’t like to sell, and most salespeople aren’t very good at it (and don’t like it either).  It’s just a paycheck to them.

Contracts: most contracts, and the bulk of what’s in contracts, are crap.   Yes, you have to have them in this legally paranoid world, but is there a way to recreate a system in which you don’t need 80% of this stuff?

Lack of trust & integrity is what causes the bottlenecks, waste and frustration in business.   It’s why we need selling, HR, contracts…

Is there a way to bring trust and integrity back to business?


Yep.  That’s my intention here, even if we might have to start from scratch in a bunch of areas. Shortly after I wrote these notes down (and processed a few other things), I came up with PebbleStorm and its mission.

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Fun with “word clouds”

February 4th, 2009

Post to Twitter is a fun site that can take a bunch of text or your blog, and create a beautiful word cloud.  Here’s one it created from PebbleStorm.  It’s no accident that “Unique” & “Genius” are the biggest words!pebblestorm-word-cloud-feb-2009

[UPDATE] Here’s a word cloud as of March 2011, about two years later:

And for more fun, here’s one from my sales blog


And for CEOFlow, although this will change quite a bit with some upcoming plans I have for the content…


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Below’s a sneak peak at the PebbleStorm overview I’m currently putting together for a webinar I’m doing with with Yanik Silver, a very successful internet/marketing entrepreneur I met through Tim Ferriss.  The webinar will be on March 17th (12pm PST / 3pm EST)…register at

Now’s YOUR chance to contribute to PebbleStorm

I’m still shaping this presentation so now’s your chance…what doesn’t make sense or could be improved?  What would you like to see?  It will be a webinar with audio, but I’d also like it to be intelligible even standing alone.  I’m sure it’ll evolve quite a bit in the coming month, so you can have a real impact on it.  Leave a comment or write me at aaron at pebblestorm dot com!

Yanik Silver & his blog

Yanik and I hit it off right away, and he felt his audience would benefit from exposure to PebbleStorm’s story.  For my part, I really liked how Yanik makes fun and meaning a part of business (in fact, his creed is “Make more money, have more fun, give more back”).  Yanik also designed his latest venture, Maverick Business Adventures, in the PebbleStorm way: he literally took a blank sheet of paper and designed his ideal business…and then went out to create it.  Here’s a note about it from his bio:

As a self-described “adventure junkie”, Yanik has found that his own life-changing experiences such as running with the bulls, bungee jumping, sky diving, exotic car road rallies and Zero-Gravity flights have not only brought a profound sense of accomplishment but also led to breakthroughs in ideas, focus and business thinking. That’s why he combined both his passions to found Maverick Business Adventures™ creating the kind of “club” he’d want to be part of.”

elvisYanik’s blog:  He has a great style of weaving in a combination of fun, success and contribution to most of his posts.  Here are a couple heavy on the fun side 🙂  “The Non-stop 35th Birthday Party (and an important marketing lesson on ‘Conversation’)“, or “Viva Baltimore….The King Krawl Hits Charm City (And a story of stellar service)”.

I have this weird craving now to get me an Elvis outfit…

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