Wisdom from Ken Aldrich - Author, The Dream Toolbox: Building an Entrepreneurial Mind and Financial Abundance
by Team Sammy
Today I am pleased to introduce you to Kenneth C. Aldrich, author of the book: Dream Toolbox: Building an Entrepreneurial Mind and Financial Abundance.
I read and listen extensively to information on the topics of dreams, goal setting and financial abundance. What I absolutely love about Ken is his clarity and directness. His thinking stands up to others in the field. It is easy to understand and execute. He is the real deal. He lives his message.
I first discovered Ken while doing research on the Green Dot Corporation. He is on the Board of Directors. I then checked out his website. I listened to all his short, succinct audio messages on making dreams come true. They resonated. So, I reached out to him on LinkedIn. He generously agreed to my invitation to connect. I love LinkedIn. He is local. I asked if he would be willing to meet me in person. Again, he agreed. We had a wonderful and insightful conversation over a cup of coffee at Winchell Donuts in Pasadena. I was hooked and wanted to learn more. One of many things I was delighted to ascertain was that he was in the process of writing the subject book. When I discovered it was finished, I requested this interview. And again, he graciously agreed. I think you too will find his insights fascinating!
Ken, please help Sammy Rabbit fans get to know you. Briefly take us through the stages of your life. Who was Ken as a child, teen, young adult, middle adult, early senior and now a "seasoned" senior?
I was raised as an only child in a relatively low-income family in Oklahoma City. My parents became adults during the great depression and neither finished college, although both loved learning, had curious minds and were loving parents. In those days, business and finance were not subjects to be talked about over the dinner table, so I didn’t learn much about business at home—or anywhere else for that matter. Although my father was a salesman, but not a businessman, during my teenage years he did try his hand at several small businesses. As I recall, none were particularly successful and probably made me more risk averse than entrepreneurial.
Through the love and concern of a family friend, I was encouraged to look at quality colleges outside of Oklahoma and ended up with partial scholarships at several, choosing Harvard mainly because it was the alma mater of my mentor. Once there, my parents helped financially to the best of their ability and I cleaned tables, worked in the food service line in the student cafeteria and worked whatever summer jobs I could find to pay my way. My only entrepreneurial effort was to attempt to create a door-to-door sales business, which I hated and closed down as soon as I had made enough to pay off the money I had borrowed to start the business.
Although it was a struggle financially, college was a remarkable experience for me. Harvard is a fine school, but, more important, it was in the greater Boston area and for the first time I had access to symphony, graphic arts, theatre and a host of experiences that I had never experienced before. In addition, I was 3,000 miles from home and had to learn to make my own decisions and live with the consequences.
After college, I spent a year in New York, then returned to Harvard for Law School, repeating then the same cycle of partial scholarship, hours of student jobs, and boring summer work. But I got my degree and started on what I thought would be a wonderful career in law.
After about 4 years, I realized that I had a desire to be something other than a legal counselor. I wanted to sit on the other side of the table and do the deals that looked so glamorous to me. I left a very fine law firm, took a salary cut and went to work for an investment firm with no assurance that I could make it, but absolute certainty that I needed to try.
"The entrepreneurial mind solves puzzles and enjoys the process."
I won’t bore you with too many details beyond that. Most of the important turning points are recounted in my recently published book, Dream Toolbox: Building an Entrepreneurial Mind and Financial Abundance. The short version is that two different firms went out of business while I was working for them, leaving me without a job. I survived that and, because of the skills I had learned in school and on those jobs, I was able to build a successful career in real estate ownership and development, then a second career as a professional “Seed Stage” investor and founder of several successful start-up companies.
You are an extraordinarily vibrant, relevant and ambitious 80 year old. Why is that?
The simplest answer is that it just never occurred to me that I was too old to do anything I wanted to do. I manage to think of myself as perpetually about 40 years old—old enough to have lived through my early mistakes and young enough to look on each day as a new opportunity. Although I play tennis, walk or do some kind of exercise at least 5 days a week, I certainly have more physical limitations than I did when I was 40, but even when I was quite ill for a year or more several years ago, I still wanted to do as much work as I could because I loved what I do, which is founding or helping others found companies that can, I hope, make the world a better place. Also, quite frankly, I always enjoyed the board game Monopoly when I was a kid, and now I get to play it with real money. What could be better than that?
What makes you - you?
That is an almost impossible question to answer. The best I can say is that I am insatiably curious about all kinds of things, often those I know least about, and have a drive to do whatever I do in a way that will create something new or better than existed before. I also have a passion for simply being kind, not just to those who can help me financially or otherwise, but to everyone. Whether in business or in the rest of life, I just see no justification for not treating others with kindness and respect. I vividly remember being on a date in the days before my marriage. During dinner, I thanked our waiter for something he did—probably something trivial like pouring us more water without our having to ask. To my surprise, my date said, “Why did you do that; he is just a waiter; that is his job.” That told me all I needed to know. I took her home and never saw her again. Kindness just matters.
What inspired the Dream Toolbox? What drove you to write and finish it? And, how long did you work on the book?
The inspiration for Dream Toolbox came from volunteer work I have done for years with underprivileged high school and middle school students. I realized that if I volunteered in classrooms for the rest of my life, I could reach, at best, about 30 students each year and that, if I were lucky, perhaps one or two would have a light go on in their minds and realize that there was more to life than a job where part of the job description was the phrase, “Would you like fries with that?”.
"'Never waste a crisis', That simple statement has, at its core, a very profound truth: opportunity almost always comes wrapped in a problem."
I also realized that often the thing that pulled back the curtain for a student and let the light shine in was not the curriculum of the course, but a chance comment that I might make one day in class without ever realizing its importance to a particular individual. In short, because I had no way to predict what things I might say that would make a difference, I needed a way to reach more people than I could reach as a volunteer teacher. Based on that insight, I started a blog of 20 or more “episodes” on the website DreamToolbox.com in an effort to reduce to bite sized pieces the most important insights I had from my career. Quickly, I realized that to expand further and reach more people, I needed to expand those episodes into a book with a more complete and coherent structure. That took about 9 months of writing and editing, but it was finally published on Amazon April 30, 2019. If the book is successful and changes some lives for the better, that will be my way of “paying forward” the remarkable gift that was given me by my middle school mentor who said, “Yes you can get into an elite school and succeed.”
Who is your intended audience for Dream Toolbox and what is the most significant take away for readers?
The original intended audience was young people from middle school through college, but I quickly realized that I had a broader audience that included parents, teachers, counselors, and just people who were adults but were still struggling with questions about what to do with the rest of their economic lives. I can only hope I bring some value to both the young and the older.
There are two core messages in Dream Toolbox:
- Success or failure in life or in business ultimately depends on changing our core belief system from “I can’t do that” to “Yes, I can.”
- The tools needed to achieve success are available to everyone because they are all based on knowledge, skills and an entrepreneurial mindset.
For example, most people think they need for to have money before they can make money or start a new business. The reality is that there is plenty of money whose owners are eagerly looking for better ways to make it work for them. The entrepreneur who offers those people an opportunity to invest is not begging or asking a favor. The entrepreneur is offering an opportunity to others to make their money work for them, but also creating a financial world in which he or she can also profit. That relationship is what makes free capitalism so powerful.
I am fascinated by dreams, goals and mindsets. Why are dreams and mindsets important?
The simplest answer is in the saying: “If you don’t have a dream, how can you have a dream come true?” That is both simple and profound, which is why I spend a lot of time in Dream Toolbox teaching techniques for using our imaginations to identifying true dreams and distinguishing them from just wishes. The next step is to bring those dreams so vividly alive in our subconscious mind that we achieve them almost without realizing it. Fulfilling dreams still requires hard work, but when the dream becomes reality in our minds (long before it is actually fulfilled) our subconscious mind does remarkable things in helping us find a way to make the dream come true.
In a couple of sentences will you describe the essence or core tenets of an "entrepreneurial mindset?"
The entrepreneurial mind does one thing remarkably well: it sees every obstacle, not as a barrier blocking the road to success, but a puzzle to be solved. The essence of a puzzle is that it has a solution, and part of the pleasure of puzzles is the joy of hunting for the answer. We just have to find it. The entrepreneurial mind solves puzzles and enjoys the process.
What are a few of the typical obstacles people have to overcome to "entrepreneurial mindset?"
The biggest obstacle of all is fear of failure. That almost always leads either to never trying at all or trying half-heartedly so that we always have a built-in excuse for failure. I spend a lot of time on this in the book, so I won’t repeat it here except to say that fear of failure is almost always a false fear, based on worry about how we will look to others—who seldom care anyway—rather than any genuine situations worthy of fear.
The other big obstacle is to fail to see obstacles in life as opportunities, not barriers. There is a saying, “Never waste a crisis”, That simple statement has, at its core, a very profound truth: opportunity almost always comes wrapped in a problem.
Will you give readers and example of how the book might open their minds to opportunity, financial growth and abundance?
I truly cannot predict how. That is going to be different for everyone. What I do know is that many of those who have read it, even sophisticated business people who could probably teach me more than I can teach them, often say something like this to me: “I wish I had read this when I was just starting my career. It would have saved me so much lost time and wasted effort.”
Is there anything in the book that readers might be surprised to discover?
I think the surprise for many will be how often they find themselves saying, “I already know that. Why didn’t I think to use that knowledge?” There is almost nothing in the book that is truly new. Most of the concepts date back to wisdom that is decades or millennia old. What I have tried to do is to put ancient wisdom into a modern context and help folks see that the tools for success are all around us and available to anyone who is willing to use them.
"If we can help young people trust themselves and not fear the opinions of their friends and elders, we will be amazed at what young people can do."
I know you work with and are very interested in young people. Share with us a few of the insights you have acquired working with young people?
My experience is that young people have enormous power, both to do good things and to start doing them at a very early age. One of the great dis-services we do to our youth is to lead them to believe that they are powerless because they are young. Once they begin to imagine themselves as having the power to make their dreams come true now it unleashes incredible creative forces. If we can help them trust themselves and not fear the opinions of their friends and elders, we will be amazed at what young people can do.
Some of the most successful businesses on earth, like Facebook or Dell Computer, were started by people who were still in school. I have seen smaller, but still very successful, businesses started by young people in high school, or even younger. That doesn’t mean I am suggesting people drop out of school, but building the skills for success as an entrepreneur can start at any age and no one should ever think they are too young for success.
Is there anything else you would like to add or think people should know about the book?
No, your questions have covered a lot of ground and I hope my answers have been helpful. The only thing I would add is that Dream Toolbox is not a “how to” manual for creating businesses. It is instead about building a mindset that looks always for opportunity and is never afraid to try to make the world a better place.
Discover More and Where to Order
Discover more about Ken Aldrich and how to order his best-selling book at his website: DreamToolBox.com