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Ducks in a Row: the Value of Interest

September 23rd, 2014 by Miki Saxon


When I’m writing for a client I lose track of time; I don’t even notice when someone walks into my office.

It’s called being “in the zone” and it happens when you are seriously interested and deeply engaged with what you are doing.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist at the Claremont Graduate University, has been studying this latter phenomenon for decades. He calls it flow: the experience we have when we’re “in the zone.” During a flow state, people are fully absorbed and highly focused; they lose themselves in the activity.

It’s a proven fact that self-control is mentally fatiguing, but new research shows that high interest results in lower mental fatigue.

Bosses who use contests and gamification to drive interest are missing a good understanding of today’s workforce—and it’s not about age or even self-interest.

People get interested because a project is meaningful and they can see how their work contributes to the larger picture.

Even on minor projects they can see how what they did helped achieve the outcome.

No busy work; no incomplete information and no doing [whatever] for the sake of doing it.

In short, if you want to generate interest in a task it must be meaningful and provide an opportunity for the worker to add value.

Flickr image credit: Beverley Goodwin

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The Soul of a Company

September 22nd, 2014 by Miki Saxon


Does your company have soul?

Or is it so focused on profit that there is no room for anything else?

What does it mean for a company to have soul?

That question is addressed by a Belgium, Frederic Laloux, who quit McKinsey when he found himself miserable and out of touch with his clients.

 “The work I had loved so much was work I simply couldn’t do any longer. I came to the realization that I was in a very different place than the executive teams of the large corporations with whom I had been working. I just couldn’t work with these big organizations anymore. They felt too soulless and unhealthy to me, too trapped in a rat race of just trying to eke out more profits.”

Wondering what gave a company soul fueled two years of research that resulted in Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness.

Not surprisingly, Laloux found that trust ranked at the top of managerial attitudes that create soul.

Trust, Mr. Laloux found, is perhaps the most powerful common denominator in the companies he studied. “If you view people with mistrust and subject them to all sorts of controls, rules and punishments,” he writes, “they will try to game the system, and you will feel your thinking is validated. Meet people with practices based on trust, and they will return your trust with responsible behavior. Again, you will feel your assumptions were validated.”

In other words, bosses (like most others) get what they expect.

While trust can’t be faked, it is trust a function of individual bosses, from the most junior all the way up to the CEO.

That means that even if you are working in a soulless situation you can run your own organization with trust, integrity and soul.

Flickr image credit: Lars Plougmann

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I Want One!

September 19th, 2014 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_mRarely do I see new products that I really want.

Most are in the category of ‘nice, but no big deal’—but now and then…

I see something I would love to have, as I did on BI earlier this week

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: Modifying Your Vision

September 18th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://twitter.com/SamsungMobilePH/status/509404624655503360What makes a hit a hit?

When you’re ridding a comet of popularity and constantly need to release a new, better version does it make sense to take a step back and garner outside to better understand why your product is hot?

Or are you confident enough in your vision that you feel it’s unnecessary?

Would it surprise you to know that the success of the iPhone was due to the very feature Steve Jobs belittled in his competitors?


People became blackberry addicts because they could do more on the larger screen.

The iPhone’s screen was substantially larger than Nokia.

Can you even imagine surfing the Net, watching videos or streaming a movie to a phone with a screen like these?


In hindsight, it’s not weird that Jobs might have been wrong about consumer preference for screen sizes in the four years following his death. Rather, it’s weird that he didn’t acknowledge that the iPhone’s (relatively) big screen size was actually driving its popularity while he was alive.

The iPhone is arguably one of Jobs’ greatest hits, yet he never really understood why—because the ‘why’ clashed with his vision.

To acknowledge something you need to be aware of it.

And no matter how good you are at seeing around corners, you may need to modify your own vision to respond accurately to what your market craves.

Image credits: @Samsung Mobile PH and Jorge Barrios via Wikimedia Commons

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Stain or Paint? What’s Your Preference?

September 17th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/27656042@N03/3320116815/in/set-72157607737046395/Bosses are enamored with culture and rightly so.

However, for culture to work its wonders it must sink deeply into the organization in the same way that stain is absorbed by wood.

Cultural stain is the direct result of walking the talk and making sure that everybody else walks it, too.

It’s intentional action and it requires paying attention.

It must be applied carefully or every imperfection and flaw in the organization will be on display.  

Stain is never the output of an underling; when ideas do bubble up from other parts of the organization they won’t take root without the support of the boss, whether publicly or not.

The problem is that many bosses find it faster to treat culture like paint.

Cultural paint is easier to apply and, like real paint, it can hide everything from minor blemishes to dry rot.

It’s paid lip-service, with effects that are grounded in convenience and often included only to make the employees feel good.

What paint-loving bosses forget is that no matter how much paint is applied people aren’t stupid and they will vote their displeasure with their feet.

Flickr image credit: maurice.heuts

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Ducks in a Row: Cognizant of Cultures

September 16th, 2014 by Miki Saxon


Erin Meyer is the author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business and teach cross-cultural management at the international business school Insead, in Paris.

His article explaining how he learned to identify seminar participants with questions by looking for “bright eyes” is something every manager should read—whether or not they are managing an international team.

Why? Because different cultures are more than a function of Japanese vs. Russian vs. British.

Just as culture differs from country to country it differs by areas within each country.

In the US it’s beyond the difference between Massachusetts and Texas or Nevada and Colorado.

The cultural differences between Northern and Southern California are considerable, as are the differences between New York City and Rochester.

Cultural differences can be even finer; think of the differences between the various Burroughs in NYC starting with attitude all the way to language and almost everything in-between.

Beyond that different cultures can exist next door to each other, passed on through families, friends and social media.

Some cultural differences are obvious, while others are extremely subtle.

But they all have one thing in common.

To succeed, a boss needs to recognize the obvious, tease out the subtle and address them all.

Flickr image credit: John Haslam

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The Hypocrites of Tech

September 15th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

4744202563_f23be1cbb0_mSince it was first announced, iPad commercials have shown kids using them and millions of parents took to them to keep their kids entertained.

One major exception was Steve Jobs, the guru of consumer technology (his kids read hardcopy books).

“They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

Jobs wasn’t alone.

Since then, I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, Alex Constantinople, the chief executive of the OutCast Agency, Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium and Lesley Gold, founder and chief executive of the SutherlandGold Group all limit or say no to technology for their kids.

“That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” –Chris Anderson

Limited or outright banned, technology is handled differently by those in tech when it comes to their kids.

Although some non-tech parents I know give smartphones to children as young as 8, many who work in tech wait until their child is 14. While these teenagers can make calls and text, they are not given a data plan until 16. But there is one rule that is universal among the tech parents I polled.

“This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever,” Mr. Anderson said.

In the light of new research, barring electronic screens from the bedroom has taken on new urgency and not just for kids.

The blue light from personal electronic devices has also been linked to serious physical and mental health problems.

(My sister’s doctor warned her months ago, but it took the article to make her stop.)

What the tech world sees is no different from what other people see on the news, but they pay more attention.

Not that any of this will change the ads or overall marketing of tech—it will keep targeting kids—hook them early they’re yours for life—and encouraging people of all ages to use their screens when it’s dark.

So much for the vaunted tech values of authenticity and transparency.

Actually, taking a step back, tech’s attitude seems more in tune with politicians’ attitude—more of a do as I say, not as I do approach.

Flickr image credit: Ernest McGray, Jr.

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If the Shoe Fits: Founder Talk vs. Founder Walk

September 12th, 2014 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_mFounders constantly talk about their need for ‘self-starters’ and ‘independent workers’.

They look for people who will ‘take the ball and run with it’.

They want high initiative and creative problem-solving.

What they really crave is a self-managing workforce or as close as they can get.

The disconnect results from the differences between what they say and their MAP.

If MAP fears any of the following then there is no way the walk can live up to the talk.

And while the answers to these questions require being brutally honest with yourself, they do not require being made public.

  • Does letting go/delegating equal loss of control?
  • Is your self esteem tied to methodology or accomplishments (AKA, your way or the highway)?
  • Do you believe it’s more important that work is done well, than where or how it happens?
  • Does your self-esteem equate control to power?
  • Do you believe that people are intelligent, motivated and really care about their company’s success, OR that they are that you need to watch them every minute if anything is going to get done?
  • How much of a micromanager are you?

Once you identify attitudes that need to change it’s up to you to modify your MAP as needed.

MAP can be changed, but those changes must originate internally—they can’t be forced by circumstances or other people, although either can be motivators.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: Hiring Consistency

September 11th, 2014 by Miki Saxon


Startups, and those who love to work in them, operate on the same premise—what you see is what you get—from the beginning.

The beginning starts not on the first day of work, but from the moment they first connect.

Candidates expect the company to reflect its products and its reputation, as well as the hiring manager’s.

Those hiring expect candidates to reflect their resume and reputation.

In practice, that means the person who reports to work is the same person who interviewed, i.e., the same attitude and interests they had when interviewed and hired.

If a different attitude walks through the door on start day it must be addressed immediately.

If the start-day attitude turns out to be the candidate’s true colors, but doesn’t match the company’s culture it is best to face the hiring error sooner, rather than later when the damage is already done.

By the same token, if those hiring presented a scenario of fairness, a strong team, intolerance for politics and the opportunity to make a difference, then that is what the candidate expects.

If the founder or manager presented herself as a motivator, innovator, team-builder, mentor-type during the interview that is what the candidate expects.

If the company’s or managers’ true colors are different from those presented during the interviews then, not matter how hot your startup, don’t be surprised when your new hires walk.

Flickr image credit: Marc Lane

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Management Made Easier

September 10th, 2014 by Miki Saxon


In addition to online media, videos and podcasts, there are literally miles of books detailing how best to lead and manage.

Many provide excellent information, while some are pure bulls**t.

One simple fact provides good guidance to bosses at all levels.

If you are an intelligent, talented, aggressive, competent boss, then manage others as you want to be managed.

This typically means well-defined goals, complete information, the authority necessary to successfully complete the work and clear, open communication,

However, the instant the boss moves towards less communication the result is usually more oversight.

Continue down that path and you’ll find yourself in the land of micromanagement.

Enter at your own risk and with a willingness to spend more time hiring.

Flickr image credit: maurice.heuts

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