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Archive for October, 2011

Halloween Commentary

Monday, October 31st, 2011

It’s Halloween 2011
when sugar highs will reach to heaven.
Extravagant costumes and parties galore,
even with an eviction notice on the front door.
Spending is up, forget the economy,
a billion for costumes and more for gastronomy.

Some costumes are sexy, some are just fun;
some are so scary you’ll just want to run.
But how ever you dress and whatever you do,
be sure it is fun and leaves a happier you!

This is not one of my better efforts; here is a sampling of previous and much better Halloween fare.

Halloween Success Story
There was a student named Delf
who had a high opinion of self
He truly believed that with nary a sigh,
he could start a company that would fly high.

He founded it on Halloween (more…)

Scary times require rhymes
It’s Halloween and things are scary—
the economy is really hairy;
your savings trashed, your mortgage iffy
and it can’t be fixed in a NY jiffy.

Today is the start of the holiday season, (more..)

A Halloween economy
Bats and witches and pumpkins, oh my,
bailouts and options and fat cats who sigh;
a Treasury Secretary deep in the fold
and stock that reeks like decades old mold.

For Halloween you want a costume that scares, (more…)

I hope you have a howling good time!

Flickr image credit: ^^RaviN^^

mY generation: Sick

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Tomorrow Jim’s bachelor days end and he will be a happily married man, so he has other things on him mind that entertaining us. Therefore, once again, I’ve drawn from the archives, just in time for the start of flu season. See all mY generation posts here.


Quotable Quotes: James Joyce

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

After wasting more than an hour looking for interesting Halloween quotes I decided there weren’t any that I didn’t use last year. James Joyce, on the other hand, said many interesting things and some of them are make useful guidelines for anyone working to get ahead.

“A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Whether you consider yourself a genius or not, look for opportunities the next time you screw up instead of running for cover.

Joyce understood that everything we do in the present influences who we become, or, in his own words, “I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.” He phrased it more simply a different time, “I am who I am because of who I was.”

If you just saw these words today you would probably attribute them to some current entrepreneur or corporate honcho, but they were uttered by Joyce more than 70 years ago, “I want to work with the top people, because only they have the courage and the confidence and the risk-seeking profile that you need.”

Most of us think a bit of immortality would be pretty cool, but Joyce made sure he of his—and it worked. “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”

Image credit: WikiMedia Commons

Expand Your Mind: 2 Tricks and 2 Treats

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Halloween has always been a favorite happening of mine, long before it became one of the top five retailing holidays (actually, I think I read that it is number two). I’ve always looked forward to trick or treating—when I was a kid it meant candy, but these days it has a

First for the tricks.

Trick 1 – I’m sure it will come as no surprise that the rich are getting richer, unlike the rest of us and now it’s been well-quantified.

The top 1 percent of earners more than doubled their share of the nation’s income over the last three decades…

Trick 2 – I take this trick very personally, in spite of the fact that I’ve been guilty of doing it on occasion. The problem is that, like many tricks, it can backfire in ways you’d never think.

“From his perspective [iPhone user] they look like a view of, er, splayed lady parts: ({}). He then ran around his lab showing colleagues excitedly what I had just sent him. Half (mostly men) concurred with his interpretation, and the others (mostly women) didn’t and probably thought he was kind of a desperate perv.” –Lisa M. Bates, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia (Blackberry user)

Now come the treats.

Treat 1 – Just in time for Halloween, comes scientific information that may help alleviate any guilt you feel for indulging in some of those bit-size candy bars your kids will collect.

Most people, he said, will be more satisfied by eating a 50-calorie cupcake than a dozen carrot sticks with just as many calories, because the sense of deprivation is less and the craving for “bad” food is calmed, if not entirely extinguished. “Smaller treats give people license to eat it all, which is a very powerful thing,” he said. “Psychologically, it’s exciting and comforting.” –Brian Wansink, Cornell professor and the author of “Mindless Eating”

Treat 2 – In my humble opinion I saved the best for last. May I present you with a link to (sound of trumpets, roll of drums) the 2011 Ig Nobel Prize winners and they are truly superb this year—as they are every year. It makes you wonder how they can keep improving. For those of you unfamiliar with the Ig Nobels, here is a sampling to whet your appetite.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami of JAPAN, for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.

REFERENCE: US patent application 2010/0308995 A1. Filing date: Feb 5, 2009.

LITERATURE PRIZE: John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that’s even more important.

REFERENCE: “How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done,” John Perry, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 23, 1996. Later republished elsewhere under the title “Structured Procrastination.”

Enjoy!

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

If the Shoe Fits: Clarity or Bafflement

Friday, October 28th, 2011

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

A young programming whiz called me after reading this post and requested some help.

“Jim” had job offers from two strong startups and wasn’t sure which to accept.

I discussed which technology he found most interesting, which position he thought would be the most challenging, where he thought he would learn the most, which people he felt most comfortable with, which company seemed to have values/culture that was most synergistic to his own.

I asked if there was anything about either one that bothered him and Jim said that was the problem, he wasn’t sure.

In both cases, his final interview had been with the respective founders. Both shared their vision and seemed open when responding to his questions. He left each feeling excited and enthralled with the opportunities.

Jim said the problem surfaced when he was telling his parents about the companies (call them A and B).

He said he was easily able to explain B’s vision, market, opportunity and even culture, but when he tried to describe A’s vision and the founder’s answers to his questions he couldn’t.

What seemed so clear when they were talking wasn’t when he used his own words to explain it to his folks.

When he replayed the founder’s actual sentences and even wrote them out and re-read it they didn’t make as much sense—worse, some didn’t make any sense at all.

What happened to Jim made me think of a recent post by Steve Roesler about keeping things simple.

Truth comes in sentences. B_ llS_it comes in paragraphs. If you can’t say it with a noun, verb, and object, you aren’t clear about your thought.

I suggested he read it and also yesterday’s post and apply the information to the problem.

Jim just emailed me to thank me for the time we spent and the links; he also said that he had accepted B’s offer.

Which do you remind your candidates of, A or B?

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Entrepreneurs: Responses to “What Do You Say?”

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Two weeks ago I posted interview questions from a discussion among entrepreneurs, asked how you would address them and said I would share the intel from the group’s further discussions. Of course, it took a week longer than expected because everyone was busy, but here is, to the best of my ability, an unbiased summary of their thoughts.

Although not black and white, the group seemed to generally fall into one of two camps—one opting for being open and candid and the other more focused on expediency, based on company needs and the position’s urgency.

  • Camp Open and Candid: Several attitudes seemed to be at work here. There was the general feeling that candidate’s deserved to know the negatives along with the positives; the feeling was that if negatives were glossed over the candidate was more likely to leave when they did surface and that in both the short and long run turnover was more detrimental to product development as well as team morale.

    Several focused on the issue of trust, with the most adamant saying that omitting or avoiding was the same as an outright lie.

    Regarding the difference between candidates who are available vs. those currently working, this group felt it was very important to “level” regarding any difficulties the company was facing. A few said that this was more important for candidates with greater financial responsibilities, i.e., mortgages, kids, non-working spouse, etc., but all agreed that they would want to know if positions were reversed.

    All agreed that there were sensitive areas couldn’t be shared, but that it was wrong to use that as an excuse to avoid answering questions.

    The general feeling regarding compensation (equity or money) was one of being as open as legally possible.

  • Camp Expediency: The general attitude in this group was one of extreme focus on moving the company forward. It was felt that first loyalty had to be to investors and making the vision a reality or there wouldn’t be a company.

    Some felt that candidates applying to startups understood this and therefore wouldn’t expect anything else, while others said that is was naïve to hold startups to a different level of openness than was expected from established companies.

    None felt that a candidate’s personal situation, currently employed, responsibilities, etc., should have any impact on the discussions and they assumed that anyone applying to a startup was familiar with the risks and working requirements.

    On the subject of compensation, especially equity and funding, they were almost universally adamant that the information was confidential and should be kept so, with the exception of certain executive and critical hires.

Both sides offered solid reasons for their approach and none came over as advocates of the lie/cheat/steal school of thought.

My subjective reaction was that the first group took a longer term view of their current startup, as well as future efforts, and were concerned about damaging their personal brand by not walking their talk, while the second was more focused on the immediate situation.

What do you think?

Flickr image credit: Valerie Everett

Miki’s Rules to Live By: the Wise Boss

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Over the years I’ve heard variations of this rule from the best managers I’ve worked with in every field and across all disciplines and levels.

It’s the wise boss who understands that the only thing more important than hiring someone new is retaining someone you already have.

One would think it’s both simple and obvious, but you can walk into any company of any size and find more managers who don’t practice it than do.

Which are you?

Ducks in a Row: Jim Heskett and Culture

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

I am a major fan of HBS professor Jim Heskett; I like his thinking and especially like the questions he poses and the responses they draw.

In 1992 Heskett questioned the impact corporate culture had on success, but in his new book, The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance he identifies the missing connective link and talks about it here.

But they ultimately found that what really distinguished good and bad performers was the adaptability of cultures. They concluded that organizations need both strong and adaptable cultures to survive over long periods of time.

Not to minimize Heskett’s research, but from where I sit it seems so obvious.

All living things, especially humans, find ways to adapt to their particular situation; they have to or they won’t survive.

Corporate culture is also a living entity and the desire to preserve it by rejecting change is akin to encasing an insect in amber.

Corporate culture must adapt quickly to global, economic and political happenings or it will die.

All that said, it’s great that someone such as Jim Heskett, who has real clout and academic rigor, has proven it.

Flickr image credit: zedbee

Universal Worker Desires

Monday, October 24th, 2011

468502417_7b9356e195_mAfter all that’s been written and discussed it shouldn’t surprise you to know that most people crave a positive corporate culture and an open-door policy, but would it surprise you that this desire isn’t a product of the US or even the industrialized west?

Yesterday I mentioned I would share a universal truth from an unlikely source.

A positive corporate culture (40% of respondents) and an open-door policy (100%) are the two key elements of an ideal workplace, according to a recent region-wide human resource (HR) survey conducted by IIR Middle East.

Employee engagement and transparency were also found to be essential to enhanced employee performance within an organizational culture.

One of the reasons I find this so intriguing is not so much the desires themselves, but the local in which they are found.

Granted, my knowledge of the Middle East is limited, but the prevailing customs and culture don’t seem particularly conducive to the development of that kind of MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) in management

(And this has nothing to do with an Islamic vs. Judeo-Christian sub-text.)

Workers all seem to want the same thing, whether in the Mid-East, North and South America, Europe, Russia, India or Asia.

Of course, the surface results of implementing those desires might look different, but the basic cravings that drive them are the same, as is the main stumbling block—management.

Changes in transparency, door policy, not killing the messenger, etc. require changes in managers’ MAP and those changes can not be ordered or implemented from the outside in.

Flickr image credit: FlyingSinger

mY generation: Culture Fit

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

From the archives; see all mY generation posts here.


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