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Archive for July, 2009

Book Review: Bootstrapping: Weapon of Mass Reconstruction

Friday, July 31st, 2009

I lived more than 25 years in and around Silicon Valley. There have been many books written about the area, people and happenings (one of my all time favorites is The Nudist On The Nightshift), with many focused on those who start companies—the famous and infamous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Contrary to much of what you may read in the media none of it is dead; not the VCs, who are raising new funds, or the angels, who invest their own money, and certainly not the entrepreneurs.

Nor are the folks who write about them; some write from the halls of academia, some from the heights of punditship and a few who have actually been there/done that.

One such is Sramana Mitra, a tech entrepreneur who founded three companies, consults with Silicon Valley VCs, writes a column for Forbes and has a MS in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT.

Bootstrapping: Weapon of Mass Reconstruction is the second book in her Entrepreneur’s Journeys series and it’s a great read.

As opposed to a series of lessons to be taught, the book is a series of interviews with entrepreneurs highlighting their fascinating histories, the different paths they took and the difficulties they overcame.

It’s about the need for solid management skill—a book about implementers with vision as opposed to visionaries who depend on others to make it happen.

What you learn from them is up to you, but whether you plan to start a business or not you would have to work very hard not to benefit from their experiences.

The book’s focus is on companies that started and progressed without venture investment. Mitra does an excellent job of pointing out that even without IPOs, M&A and VCs throwing money like beads at Mardi Gras starting a company in your garage with a few friends is not only a solid approach—but a better one.

“If the next Google is to emerge and bring with it thousands of new jobs, it must first start over some kitchen table where not only hope but opportunity is readily available. Where entrepreneurs not only start businesses at a higher rate, but also survive and thrive at a higher rate.”

She points that many businesses fail for lack of funding, but if you don’t look for funding that roadblock ceases to exist.

“Through much discussion, writing, and brainstorming on each topic, I arrived at one core thesis: Not just entrepreneurship, but bootstrapped entrepreneurship is the true weapon of mass reconstruction.”

Having lived through the dot com bubble I know that this is true. Too much available investment makes trust fund babies of companies that need to grow up hungry, tough and scrappy.

Image credit: Sramana Mitra

Recognizing The Good With The Bad

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Vinod Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and now a venture capitalist, considers himself a pragmentalist (pragmatic environmentalist) and his investments reflect that attitude.

“And I’m a firm believer, technology is the real solution. The world will not go backwards. Human beings aren’t made that way. And so you have to come up with different solutions.”

All well and good, but he goes on to say that leaders need to hold opinions based on their own belief system and that if you believe strongly enough you can lead confidently.

The examples he mentions are Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison and therein lies the problem.

It’s a common attitude, cite one of the “good guys” to illustrate so-called leadership qualities and ignore all the bad examples of the same action.

Ellison and Jobs are known for forging ahead based on their own opinion and convictions and damn the torpedoes and analysts. Fortunately, they’ve both been right far more often (not always) than wrong and so are held up as examples of the need to hold to passionately to one’s beliefs.

But what about all the leaders who follow their own belief system and blow up their companies when they damn the torpedoes?

Robert Nardelli at Home Depot; Richard Fuld at Lehman and the rest of the Wall Street CEOs who passionately believed in derivatives and minimized the risk; John Thain at Merrill Lynch; Al Dunlap at Sunbeam; the list is endless and timeless.

Khosla is interesting and obviously successful following his own advice, but I suggest that you look for more than confidence based on a personal belief system when choosing someone to follow.

What do you think?

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Image credit: The Washington Post

Leadership's Future: The Success Of The M3 Foundation

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Did you know that six out of ten of the boys who could help build our future drop out of school and end up in jail?

That’s a full 60% and that is one scary number.

These boys are just like your sons—only without the same opportunities.

These boys are black.

The M3 Foundation is changing that one small step at a time.

M3 was started three years ago by KG Charles-Harris, CEO of Emanio, who I met first as a client and now count as a good friend.

The following is from this year’s M3 year-end report.

“M3 has had tremendous success during the past 3 years. We started with 10 underperforming boys at King Middle School in Berkeley in 2006 and expanded to all three middle schools in Berkeley with more than 30 students in the program during the past school year.

The boys achieved an average GPA of 3.0 during the past school year, some starting as low as 0.6 GPA. The average GPA was raised from 2.7 to 3.0 during the last semester.

All our boys are from low-income families, many with single parent or guardian backgrounds. Since 54 percent of black boys drop out of school on a national level, and 73 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area, these results are a tremendous boost. We expect to improve these further during the coming year.”

Take a good look at the numbers. That’s the kind of improvement that No Child Left Behind was supposed to achieve—but didn’t.

M3 accomplished it by working directly with the boys, not by teaching them to take tests or drumming rote memorization into their heads, but by showing them the value of education and providing the attention needed to appeal to their pride.

Instead of being told they could not they were told that they could.

Not just told, but supported and encouraged.

And they succeeded.

Finally, M3 packs a lot more bang for the buck than most programs do—check it out.

Come back next week for an interview with KG Charles-Harris.

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Image credit: M3 Foundation

Changing Company Culture

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

No matter the size of your company, the true path to changing company culture is inherent in the MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) of the CEO who must desire and support the changes or they won’t happen. It’s that simple.

In fact, that’s the main reason why culture so often changes when the top person changes. One of the most glaring examples of this was Robert Nardelli, who destroyed Home Depot’s culture and saw turnover rates at all levels soar.

Culture always looks like the boss, even when it bubbles up from the workers, since it’s the boss who allows and enables it to bubble up and then supports its implementation.

When seeking to change a culture it’s critical to identify the source(s) of each trait displayed in your Cultural Web (Power Structures, Organizational Structures, Rituals and Routines, Symbols, Control Systems, Myths and Stories).

If the source, CEO/boss, senior executive, etc., isn’t willing to change their MAP enough to let go of the previous approach then change is more than difficult, it’s unlikely.

Sometimes the bottleneck isn’t a person, its tradition, usually some variation of, “…we’ve always done it that way.”

But tradition is habit and habits are part of MAP.

Assuming that you aren’t the bottleneck, it’s your responsibility to not only engender, but also facilitate, MAP changes in those below you.

However, doing the same in those above you is far more difficult and often ends up as an exercise in futility.

Successful change, whether in your own MAP or in others, isn’t just a function of how open you/the person is, but of what level of trust is inherent in your organization. No one is going to admit to a problem, let alone to being the source of it, in a culture where the messenger is killed.

Finally, getting people to change their MAP is similar to getting alcoholics to stop drinking—you can explain the importance, appeal to their intelligence, threaten their livelihood, use any other coercion you dream up, but it won’t happen until they choose to change.

Moving forward means change and changing is a private decision that each of us makes consciously or not, in large and small ways on a daily basis—and that’s really the bottom line.

Image credit: nickwinch on sxc.hu

Wordless Wednesday: Never Too Old…

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Remember the really bad culture? Here’s a picture of what happened.

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Image credit: on YouTube

Wordless Wednesday: Working Dead

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Now see why age never matters

Image credit: coda on flickr

MAP And Authenticity

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

I love when my readers call with questions, situations or just to chat (you can reach me at 866.265.7267), so when Tony called I was delighted.

At one point he asked why I harped so much on the psych stuff that I refer to as MAP.

I told him that all coaches/consultants/mentors bring their own philosophy/approach/spin to a subject and I’m no different. My focus has always been on what I call MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™), because we are and do as we think.

I believe that how you think sets the stage for what you do.

In other words, if your thoughts and the actions aren’t in sync then you lose authenticity—and you can’t win success at any level if you’re not authentic.

Further, there’s no way you can implement the best advice on the globe if it’s not at least synergistic with your MAP.

A great example I’ve seen of this was a district sales manager we’ll call “Jim.”

Jim’s office was known for its individualistic salespeople and somewhat erratic production. It never won high office sales awards in spite of having several of the company’s top individual producers, while “Brad’s” office won top honors year after year without any stars.

On one hand, Jim craved an office like Brad’s, but on the other, he belittled the “rah-rah” tactics that Brad believed in and used to motivate his team.

Jim tended to hire people like himself (a common managerial tendency)—gregarious loners who also didn’t respond to team tactics and motivation.

When Jim paid for a professional, day long, team-building program it fell flat. His people thought it was corny and knew that Jim didn’t believe in it either; beyond that, Jim didn’t change his own style of benign neglect.

Simply stated, Jim felt that he could go through the motions; say the correct words and his people would join in. He had no interest in changing his MAP, so there was no authenticity in his actions.

But people aren’t stupid; proceeding as if they are is a recipe for disaster, whatever the size of your organization and no matter what you are trying to do.

Image credit: justinsomnia on flickr

Ducks In A Row: Culture, Work, Life In Six Words

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

You may be a tweeting guru, but can you sum up your life, career or tell a story in just six (real) words?

When challenged to tell a story in six words, Ernest Hemingway came up with “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

Starting in 2006, Smith Magazine challenged readers to write their memoirs in six words and the effort is still going strong. Here are three examples from the Smith site,

Ecstatic, elastic, eccentric, electric, ever-changing existence!

Dreams diverted; life proceeds. Embracing detours.

Lesser people would’ve given up already.

I wrote Birth, death, fun and happiness in-between because that’s always what I wanted and got from life—including obstacles and detours.

The great advantage six words have is to force clarity of thought upon the subject.

It’s easy to set up a place on your intranet for people to post their six-word thoughts—not once, but many times.

You can use it to explore your group and company culture, clarify projects and goals and for individual team members.

  • Invite everybody to post their six word description of the culture.
  • A biographical section gives people a place to document their growth professionally and personally along with specific struggles and triumphs.
  • Boil down the essence of each project to six words. You may be surprised at how different the descriptions are reflecting the different visions of the project team—six words helps to get everybody on the same page.
  • Provide a truly anonymous section for complaints. The six word limit forces clarity on descriptions of problems and can often give you a heads up before the molehill becomes a mountain.

Please take a moment to add your six word memoir, thought or description of Leadership Turn here!

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

Culture A To Z

Monday, July 27th, 2009

By now, anybody who reads or watches the news knows that Amazon acquired Zappos, even if they don’t know about Zappos (a man asked me what a zappos was because it seemed very expensive).

Jeanne Bliss quoted a line from Tony Hsieh’s internal email (emphasis mine), “Over the next few days, you will probably read headlines that say “Amazon acquires Zappos” or “Zappos sells to Amazon”. While those headlines are technically correct, they don’t really properly convey the spirit of the transaction. (I personally would prefer the headline “Zappos and Amazon sitting in a tree…”)”

I agree that it’s a marriage made in heaven.

Both companies boast management that is passionately focused on customer experience, are long-term thinkers, know how to plan and are talented at executing.

Some pundits are focusing on the cultural compatibility and whether Zappos will be forced to change because it’s now part of a public company.

People tend to forget that Jeff Bezos is the CEO that Wall Street loves to hate.

They hated it when he expanded out of books; they predicted Amazon’s demise when it used its expertise to do fulfillment for other companies and again when Amazon jumped into cloud computing.

Bezos’ attitude is encapsulated in this short interview ending with a perfect wrap when asked if he feels vindicated by the company’s success.

‘No. I’ve taken plenty of criticism, but it’s always been about our stock price and never about our customer experience. After the bubble burst, I would sit down with our harshest critics, and at the end of the meeting they would say, “I’m a huge customer.” You know that when your harshest critics are among your best customers, you can’t be doing that badly.

Image credit: 07272009 on YouTube

The Sound Of Leadership

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Have you ever thought about what leadership sounds like?

Real leadership makes no noise.

Real leadership goes quietly about its tasks.

Real leadership doesn’t announce itself or blather on about what it plans to do in the future.

Real leadership isn’t a pied piper that mesmerizes you to follow along on its journey.

Real leadership happens every day all around you; it’s done by your colleagues, those you pass on the street and the people in your home.

So the next time you hear leadership be suspicious, be very suspicious.

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Image credit: user_fizik on sxc.hu

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