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If the Shoe Fits: Physical Advantage

April 17th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDo you use technology to solve problems? Enhance creativity and drive innovation? Develop your team and build your people?

Years ago I wrote Fools, Tools, and Management Cool about how technology doesn’t take the place of good management.

I’ve written about the advantages of silence and the importance of unwiring and how to be Luftmenschen (people who deal in the non-tangible: ideas, thoughts, dreams).

When it comes to technology, you may want to rethink the approach.

A growing body of neuroscience research has begun to reveal the exact ways in which information age technologies cut against the natural grain of the human mind. Our understanding of all kinds of information is shaped by our physical interaction with that information. Move from paper to screen, and your brain loses valuable “topographical” markers for memory and insight.

Although screens have their strengths in presenting information — they are, for example, good at encouraging browsing — they are lousy at helping us absorb, process, and retain information from a focused source. And good old handwriting, though far slower for most of us than typing, better deepens conceptual understanding versus taking notes on a computer — even when the computer user works without any internet or social media distractions.

In short, when you want to improve how well you remember, understand, and make sense of crucial information about your organization, sometimes it’s best to put down the tablet and pick up a pencil.

The work described was done by the Drucker Institute and is easy to try with your people.

The great news if you want to try unplugging is that the basic techniques are simple and free. Here’s an Un/Workshop-style exercise you can try on your own time, with your own team, in just a half-hour: Including yourself, get six or more of your colleagues together. Divide yourselves into two or more small groups. Give each group one piece of paper with a single question printed on it: Who is our customer?

Depending how young your team is you may incur some minor costs — like the need to shop for paper and pencils and possibly explain how to use them.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: a Good Hiring Process

April 16th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/designandtechnologydepartment/4085338873/

Last Friday I shared my response to a founder who was having difficulties closing desirable candidates and touched on the need for a good hiring process; here is the information needed to create one for you company.

Key points to remember,

  • process is good;
  • bureaucracy is bad;
  • authentic, transparent communications are the basis of good process

While a good hiring process is necessary, it is often one of the first to ossify into bureaucracy.

A good hiring process is

  • transparent and painless for the candidate, and
  • simple, easy to use and painless for the hiring manager.

But why a process? Why take the chance on creating something that so often turns into a bureaucratic nightmare? Why not just grab ‘em when you find ‘em?

Because you need a repeatable procedure that allows for the orderly acquisition of people, so the company can plan for and support its growth and, more importantly, land the candidates you want.

A good hiring process removes chaos and allows speed in staffing.

The best hiring process is flexible and, although based on a set of fixed principles, constantly re-invents itself based on changes in the real world.

Speed is the key.

Without question speed is the most effective, least expensive of all hiring practices.

This means there must be speed at all points of the process—any delays should originate only from the candidate.

Speed is key because people tend to judge what it will be like to work for a company/manager by how they are hired.

If the process is fast, smooth, and enjoyable, they will assume that decisions are made speedily, the company has little bureaucracy, and that working there will be fun—and they are usually right.

And vice versa.

Here are the basics of a good hiring process:

  • The company’s operating plan and budget are the basis of the staffing plan.
  • Know exactly what the job entails, what authority it has, and how it interacts with the team and outside departments, customers, vendors, etc.
  • Based on number two, write a complete req and hire the first person who meets its minimum requirements (see Req or Wreck in the right frame).
  • Be flexible and creative when sourcing.
  • Involve your people.
  • Interviews should be as culturally-relevant as they are work-relevant.
  • Always sell the meat (projects, growth opportunities, chance to contribute and make a difference) as opposed to focusing on dessert (perks, money)

Do’s:

  1. Do create a positive experience for both the hire-ees and hire-ers.
  2. Do use multiple interviewers—they are harder to con
  3. Do have a well-understood set of components including: media spending, recruiter use, relocation, sourcing, resume evaluation, scheduling, interviewing, negotiating, cutting and extending offers, closing candidates, deflecting counter offers, and pre-start actions in your hiring process as well as a flexible way to deal with each.
  4. Do make sure that sourcing and headhunter policies reflect both company needs and the current labor market.

Don’ts:

  1. Don’t “figure out” what you need by interviewing multiple candidates.
  2. Don’t keep interviewing candidates in the hopes of finding one who embodies your entire wish list.
  3. Don’t assume using a headhunter will automatically reduce your time and work.
  4. Don’t have a start and stop hiring process—whether from whimsy or human bottlenecks.
  5. Don’t buy people; those who join only for the money/perks/stock will leave for more money/perks/stock.

When all is said and done, the true purpose of a hiring process is to help the company compete for talent, which, in turn, allows the company to compete for customers.

Image credit: Jordanhill School D&T Dept

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Why John Doerr is Wrong

April 15th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/9727140956

John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins believes that the most successful tech entrepreneurs are “white, male, nerds.

“That correlates more with any other success factor that I’ve seen in the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. If you look at [Amazon founder Jeff] Bezos, or [Netscape founder Marc] Andreessen, [Yahoo co-founder] David Filo, the founders of Google, they all seem to be white, male, nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and they absolutely have no social life.”

If you dissect it, is an ignorant, short-sighted statement, especially from such a  prominent star in the tech firmament.

Let’s take the words separately in their reverse order to see why.

In the tech world, nerds are typically consumed by the bleeding edge of technology, socially challenged and will doggedly pursue their ideas come Hell or high water.
Of course there are more male nerds. Starting in elementary school, girls are discouraged from STEM, whether it’s Barbie saying, “Math is tough!” to the unconscious bias that permeates our classrooms and companies.

As to white, nerds actually come in many shapes, sizes, genders, colors, faiths and from across the socio-economic spectrum. but anyone who follows the current state of tech culture shouldn’t be surprised.

The real reason that that white, male nerds are successful is that they get funded.

They get funded because they are connected — by family, friends, school friends, ex colleagues, etc. — which means they get into the right accelerators (just as Harvard and Stanford are the right schools) or are personally introduced to investors.

The end result is that if you take a superficial look at the stats Doerr’s comment seems to be true—but it is not.

Image credit: TechCrunch

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Ducks in a Row: Living Your Own Life

April 14th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/42244964@N03/6826537248

Do you find today’s world a bit strange?

I do. Not because of the technology or breakthroughs, but because so many people are trying so hard to live someone else’s life or spending incredible amounts of energy trying to force others to live their way.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t; it’s their choice and doesn’t require my approval or opinion — unless they are trying to cram something down my throat that chokes me.

I neither need nor want the safe, curated world described yesterday.

I’ve screwed up many times in the course of my life; three had disastrous, long-range consequences, yet without them I wouldn’t be me — and I like me.

I realize that there are probably many versions of me that I would like; each a result of choosing a different fork in my path.

What I wouldn’t like would be to live with the desire to be someone else.

We look at public personas with no knowledge or understanding of what went into creating each one or even if they are real.

The dichotomy between the inauthenticity of craving or controlling someone else’s life and the talk of living an authentic life is often hard to swallow.

Geno Auriemma, Coach of the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Team summed it up very well in an interview.

“I’ve always been fascinated by people who care so much about what other people are and what they do in their personal lives,” he told a news conference. “Like, how small-minded do you have to be to care that much about what other people are doing? Life is hard enough as it is, trying to live your own life.”

No matter how wealthy there is someone with more money; no matter how beautiful or handsome there is someone who is better looking; no matter how brilliant there is someone who is smarter or just better uses what they have.

So, whether at work or personally, be proud to be you. No matter who you are or what you do you have a spark that no one else has.

Image credit: Frank Vassen

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Will Curation and Safe Spaces at College Lead to a Fear of Living?

April 13th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stella12/14556898073

Earlier this month I shared a conversation with a founder who believes he can lead only one type of person.

It wasn’t that surprising, because the more things are curated the more we hear from and cleave to people like ourselves.

There’s no question that curation reinforces opinions, while eliminating conflicting ones, narrows people beyond from where they started and acts like fertilizer to unconscious bias and outright bigotry.

But isn’t college supposed to help change that by exposing students to people with different beliefs, experiences, attitudes, etc.?

Several years ago a couple of startups gave the college-bound a way to curate their roommates, so they could be sure not to be exposed to ideas, attitudes or upbringing not in sync with their current thinking.

Mangers have been doing this for decades by thoughtlessly hiring people like themselves, so they can stay within their personal comfort zones.

Now college students are taking the concept much further with the demand for “safe spaces.”

Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material. (…)

Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School commented, “Perhaps overprogrammed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity,” But “if college students are children, then they should be protected like children.”

This need for safety and zero-level tolerance for discord makes me wonder what will happen to the current college generations when they venture into the workplace, let alone the rest of the real world.

Image credit: Deb Nystrom

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If the Shoe Fits: Hiring Starts With the Basics

April 10th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWay back in 2006 I described the difference between process and bureaucracy.

I was reminded of it by a phone call from “Kev” asking for assistance because they were having trouble hiring.

He said they had no trouble attracting excellent candidates who seemed excited about the product and work, but they couldn’t seem to close them.

I asked two questions,

  1. How would you describe your company’s culture and its core values?
  2. What is your hiring process?

Kev described the culture in terms of working hard, a really fun atmosphere (foosball table, bubble machine, Friday beer bust, etc.) an “awesome product” and “incredible people.”

He said whoever was available sat in on the interview along with him and everyone had a say in whether an offer was made. They didn’t have a formal process, because they were a startup, but planned to put something in place when they started to scale.

I explained to Kev that what he described wasn’t really a culture; that real culture is based on inviolate values.

Moreover, processes created outside or in ignorance of existing culture won’t work. It’s that simple.

That’s because the culture is anchored by and tied to the founder’s values and MAP.

For example, startups/high growth companies are often hotbeds of raging egos. If the culture is tolerant of that then the level of open communications that form the basis of great culture leading to good process is impossible.

Further, process created without a solid cultural basis will quickly turn to bureaucracy — which will slow growth while accelerating turnover.

For more information read If the Shoe Fits: Culture is Numero Uno

Join me next Thursday for a look at how to create a successful hiring process.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: Disrupting Complexity

April 9th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

James-Heskett

Entrepreneurs love to talk about disrupting.

Most recently they have been disrupting finance.

Harvard’s Jim Heskett posits the idea that tech itself is ripe for disruption, especially if you agree with Clayton M. Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Tech is ungainly for many of us.

Too much of it is developed by the young for the young

Both hardware and software are built by techies in love with the bleeding edge for early adopters and people captivated by potential — whether they will ever have use for it is incidental.

We’re told that the typical user of information technology today utilizes less than 5 percent of the capability made available by today’s hardware and software. A small number of basic functions repeatedly are put to good use by the typical user. They are the need-to-have functions. The functions thought by designers to be nice to have may enhance marketing efforts and satisfy software engineers’ desires to make complex things, but they largely go unused. For some, they even make access to “need to have” functions more confusing.

While many companies add (expensive) bells and whistles to drive growth, others work to provide a more minimalist approach that crushes competitors.

Heskett uses Intuit as an example of a company that focuses on consistently making its software simpler.

It did it by providing simple and inexpensive solutions to everyday problems. Scott [Cook, Intuit co-founder] likes to say that Intuit had 47th mover advantage, in part because it adopted a strategy that identified the pencil as the company’s most important competitor.

Does Heskett’s idea have legs? Is tech, in fact, ripe for Intuit-quality disruption?

If you have strong feelings or thoughts on the subject be sure to add your thoughts to the open forum; Even if you don’t comment it’s worth following; Heskett’s ideas always draw eclectic, well thought-through responses from his audience.

Image credit: Harvard Business School

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Leadership and a Bit of Magic

April 8th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

Every so often I sneak a day off from writing and share that month’s Leadership Development Carnival with you as I am doing today.

Excellent info, so do click over.

But first…

We all know that tech is creeping into everything, but did you expect it to converge with magic?

It has and, of course, once again Apple is first.

Image credit: TheEllenShow

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Ducks in a Row: Are You Privileged?

April 7th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fireflythegreat/6132347883

If you’re an outsider, or even an insider prone to objectivity, Silicon Valley’s culture is a mess.

When I said as much to “Rick” his response caught me off guard — although it shouldn’t have.

“I wish they would just give it a rest. I am sick and tired of all the crap about wealth inequality, lack of diversity and privacy rights. That stuff is not my responsibility. I’ve worked hard and deserve my success; nobody went out of their way to help me. I’m sure not privileged and I figure if I can do it so can they.”

I’ve heard this before, but it still leaves me speechless.

Rick is white, nice looking, middle class family, raised around Palo Alto, graduated from UC Berkeley; his dad worked for Intel.

Yet he doesn’t see himself as privileged.

Over the years I’ve known thousands of Ricks.

And therein lies the true problem.

Because it’s hard to change that which doesn’t exist.

Image credit: Dagny Mol

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The Value of Validation

April 6th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/5790730182

Do you like hearing “you did good” or the appropriate equivalent when you accomplish something, whether large or small?

It’s safe to say that 99.9% of us do.

It’s called validation and it’s what takes our accomplishments out of our heads and gives them objective, real-world presence.

We measure our success based on our accomplishments, so outside validation has always been important.

Validation used to come came from our family, friends, bosses, colleagues — people we knew and who knew us.

Now people crave and seek validation from strangers they have never met and probably never will.

Society seems to have decided that recognition and approval from thousands via virtual communities and soulless apps have more value than the same from flesh and blood people.

Personally, I find it very weird, but I guess it’s just one more thing that makes me a digital dinosaur.

Image credit: DonkeyHotey 

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