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Archive for May, 2012

Entrepreneurs: Akinori Ito and Blest Co, Ltd.

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

If you had your choice of investing in yet another social startup or in a company that could turn plastic trash into oil which would you choose?

The ultimate recyclers’ fantasy is for people to stop using plastic, but we all know that isn’t going to happen. Berkeley proved that more than a decade ago when it stopped recycling plastic bottles believing if people couldn’t recycle them they wouldn’t buy them (have to wonder what they were smoking); all they accomplished was stuffing their landfill with plastic bottles.

The next best scenario would be to change plastic trash back into oil.

Oil for plastic trash is a dream that came true last year thanks to the ingenuity of Akinori Ito of Blest Co.

Here is his story as told at TEDxTokyo.

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Image credit: TEDxTalks

5 Rules for Interacting with Contractors and Other Non Employees

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/losmininos/1697182584/I started to write this a couple of hours ago as a way to vent my frustrations with a couple of clients; fortunately, I cooled down in the interim, so what follows is not a rant.

I write for many entrepreneurs, reworking executive summaries, marketing material, websites, etc., and, through discussions often help them extend and reformulate their product ideas. I enjoy it and am told that I add substantial value.

I often work on what I am told are tight deadlines, which means evenings, nights, weekends and even holidays occasionally.

And knowing how tight startup budgets can be I rarely charge for the express services—except…

The exceptions are what I call the “hurry up and wait” clients.

These are the few who talk (whine?) of tight deadlines and major penalties for missing them and then take days to reply to my questions or new drafts.

They are often the same ones who send incomplete information using “etc.” in place of the specifics they want used, which implies that I should look up the information which, for a number of reasons, I never agree to do, and forgetting delivery dates until asked—that’s usually when I find they need it in one or two days.

In a couple of instances people who knew them told me they treat all contractors the same way, since they aren’t “really employees.”

That said, here are five rules to help you get the most bang for your non-employee buck and avoid ulcers on either side.

  1. If someone is worth paying they merit your respect (chances are you couldn’t afford to have them in-house even if you needed their skills full-time).
  2. Provide them with extra-complete information, because they aren’t privy to your shared company knowledge.
  3. Specify a delivery date and if the project is also facing an external deadline, e.g., a business plan competition.
  4. Respond to questions, drafts and iterations promptly if you want your delivery date met; it is almost impossible to keep working without answers and feedback.
  5. Pay the bill promptly; if you need special consideration discuss it up front and make the arrangements before the work is done.

All the above is common sense and follows normal business etiquette. If you are incapable of any of them you should either rethink your non-employee useage or be prepared for the major damage you will do to your personal brand.

Flickr image credit: losmininos

Ducks in a Row: Managing Buzz

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/debaird/9612032/No, not the buzz of social media, but the buzz in open office environments.
These days companies spend both time and money creating and managing the buzz of social networks—more every year—with varying degrees of success.

But only the most perceptive are recognizing the need to manage the noise level, especially of conversations, whether on cell phones or between colleagues, in open office environments.

“The noisemakers aren’t so bothered by the lack of privacy, but most people are not happy, and designers are finally starting to pay attention to the problem.” –John Goins

Studies have proved over and over that human brains can’t multitask and that doing so reduces competency on all tasks; of even more concern is reduced productivity.

Researchers at Finland’s Institute of Occupational Health have studied precisely how far those conversations carry and analyzed their effect on the unwilling listener: a decline of 5 percent to 10 percent on the performance of cognitive tasks requiring efficient use of short-term memory, like reading, writing and other forms of creative work.

Most people actually tune out conversation-blocking background noise like music for focus-intensive work such as writing, but conversations are a different matter.

Noise is not conducive to creativity.

“Noise is the most serious problem in the open-plan office, and speech is the most disturbing type of sound because it is directly understood in the brain’s working memory,” said Valtteri Hongisto, an acoustician at the institute. He found that workers were more satisfied and performed better at cognitive tasks when speech sounds were masked by a background noise of a gently burbling brook.

Autodesk got the message and installed what is known as a pink-noise system in its Massachusetts offices.

Pink-noise provides a soft whooshing over loudspeakers that sounds like a ventilation system but is specially formulated to match the frequencies of human voices.

To test its validity they turned it off after three months and the complaints poured in.

“We were surprised at how many complaints we got,” said Charles Rechtsteiner, Autodesk’s facilities manager. “People weren’t sure what was different, but they knew something was wrong. They were being distracted by conversations 60 feet away. When the system’s on, speech becomes unintelligible at a distance of about 20 feet.”

Whether your company recognizes the problem or not, there are many things that you can do in your area to avoid noise-related productivity loss.

The first is to make sure that you are not part of the problem, because you will change no one else’s actions with a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do approach.

Next, talk to your team; find the problems and work together to alleviate them as opposed to assigning blame to a few gabby colleagues.

Flickr image credit: debaird™

Memorial Day 2012

Monday, May 28th, 2012

I’m not much good at writing for emotionally charged events; it’s just not my thing, although I did write my personal Memorial Day story about my father a couple of years ago.

But I did find two things that seem like Memorial Day yin and yang to share with you.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/23165290@N00/7102836773/The first was what the grandmother in Grand Avenue told the grandchildren she is raising, “A whole lot of tomorrows were sacrificed so we could enjoy today.” So true, and not just our military deaths, but also the sometimes living deaths of all those who come back sadly damaged to a country that seems to care more about politics, ideology and red tape than it does for them and the useless deaths of the innocent, like that of Justin Ferrari on Thursday, from our urban wars and arguments.

The second is the role entrepreneurship (that overused term that is supposed to denote some kind of economic silver bullet) that is playing positively for some of our returning military.

And on that upbeat note I wish you a wonderful day filled with whatever you consider important.

Flickr image credit: Tim

Quotable Quotes: Guns

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

photos-tom-margie-1543684042I can’t decide if it’s ironic or macabre to share quotes about guns the day before Memorial Day, but a friend sent me “Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank and he can rob the world” along with this image (sorry, it’s copyrighted) and while I was looking for the author I found some excellent quotes.

I couldn’t find solid attribution for the quote that tweaked my interest, but I do think I found the original that was changed; William K Black said, The best way to rob a bank is to own one.” (BTW, he has an interesting bio.)
Al Capone believed in the power of guns, “You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot further with a smile and a gun.”

But Superintendent Pang in the film Hard Boiled really nailed gun psychology, “Give a guy a gun, he thinks he’s Superman. Give him two and he thinks he’s God.”

Among other tools guns are used for suicide, but if you pay heed to Dorothy Parker you won’t do it, Razors pain you; rivers are damp; acids stain you; and drugs cause cramp. Guns aren’t lawful; nooses give; gas smells awful; you might as well live.”

What do guns, tequila and computers have in common? Mitch Ratcliffe has the answer, “Computers have enabled people to make more mistakes faster than almost any invention in history, with the possible exception of tequila and hand guns”

In 1958 Woody Guthrie penned lyrics about an outlaw that could have been written about bankers in 2008, “Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered I’ve seen lots of funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen.”

Finally, the without a doubt, best sentence ever with the word ‘gun’ was spoken by Mae West when she said, “Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

Flickr image credit: Fr. Dougal McGuire

Expand Your Mind: Compensation

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

I’ve been planning to do a varied look at compensation, but I didn’t realize that idea started with something I read in January and here it is June. I reviewed all the comp articles I saved and thought I’d share the more unusual ones.

There were actually two January articles within a day of each other.

The first looked at who is instrumental in formulating those fat Wall Street bonuses.

But as one of the nation’s foremost financial compensation specialists, Mr. Johnson is among a small group of behind-the-scenes information brokers who help determine how Wall Street firms distribute billions of dollars to their workers.

The other was a Wharton look at the effect of excessive frugality on companies’ long-term health. My main reaction reading it was “ya think!?”

When workers feel that “the company is doing fine, but somehow I’m doing worse, at some point there has to be some dissatisfaction with that. It’s not sustainable,” suggests Wharton management professor Adam Cobb, who studies labor, worker benefits and income inequality. “I think there’s a general feeling of: This system is rigged and not in my favor.”

Shortly thereafter Dice published their salary survey for tech salaries

After two straight years of wages remaining nearly flat, tech professionals on average garnered salary increases of more than 2%…

A reminder that the jobs of the truly rich aren’t like ours comes from Rupert Murdoch who got a huge raise, in spite of legal bills from the ongoing hacking scandal being nearly a billion dollars in February; considering the continuing revelations they’ve probably surpassed that by now.

In Europe, the CEO of German startup Wooga is building a culture sans bonuses.

“I don’t believe in them,” says Jens Begemann, the 35-year-old co-founder and chief executive officer of Wooga. “If people are not motivated, you may need bonuses to make sure they work. But I don’t think that’s the right incentive.”

It used to be that people gave up some salary for the opportunity to work on bleeding edge products in companies with little-to-no structure, like-minded people and the chance to hit the jackpot through stock options—but no more.

Going to work for a start-up used to be a gamble and a sacrifice. You’d have to work longer hours for a lot less money than you would at a publicly held company. (…)To compete for talent these days, start-ups can’t skimp too much in salary negotiations.

There is much written about the rising wrath of shareholders with regards to CEO pay, but little written about a potent subgroup—shareholders who are also employees.

One potentially powerful class of shareholders — employees — seems to be rousing, too. And, to the degree that employee-shareholders band together to have their say on the boss’s pay, they can be a formidable force.

Finally, Apple’s Tim Cook raised the bar for all highly compensated CEOs Thursday; not because of a higher paycheck or by taking a symbolic $1 annual salary, but by refusing part of what he is owed.

In a regulatory filing Thursday, Cook stated that he would forgo around $75 million in dividend payments he otherwise would have revived for the 1.125 million stock awards is set to get over the next several years.

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

If the Shoe Fits: Hiring with Fred Wilson and Me

Friday, May 25th, 2012

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mA few days ago Fred Wilson wrote about the importance of culture and fit.

Some entrepreneurs and CEOs buy into “hire the best talent available” mantra. That can work if everything goes swimmingly well. But as I said, it often does not, and then that approach is fraught with problems. The other approach is hire for culture and fit. That is the approach I advocate.

That’s the same approach I’ve advocated for decades.

What many forget is that “the best talent available” refers to whoever will perform best in your culture as part of your team and focus on your company’s success.

Too many founders, CEOs, other execs and even lower level managers seem to hire for bragging rights instead.

I wrote about hiring and culture here last Sept and included a link to an article I wrote for MSDN way back in 1999 that explained how to use your culture as a screening tool when hiring.

I’ve always told clients that the fastest way to success is to always hire the right person at the right time and for the right reasons.

Good hiring is like cooking Chinese—80% of the time used is spent prepping and the balance doing.

There really are no shortcuts; especially not hiring other people’s stars.

Not to sound self-serving, but I’ve been surprised at how closely the ideas I’ve always believed in parallel Wilson’s thoughts.

Even Option Sanity™ parallels his ideas on allocating equity.

Option Sanity™ is culture in action.

Come visit Option Sanity for an easy-to-understand, simple-to-implement stock allocation system.  It’s so easy a CEO can do it.

Do not attempt to use Option Sanity™ without a strong commitment to business planning, financial controls, honesty, ethics, and “doing the right thing.”
Use only as directed.
Users of Option Sanity may experience sudden increases in team cohesion and worker satisfaction. In cases where team productivity, retention and company success is greater than typical, expect media interest and invitations as keynote speaker.

Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Avoid ‘Greatest’

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

httpwwwflickrcomphotosjoeshlabotnik456106990“If you act like your wedding day is the greatest moment in your life, it’s all downhill from there.”Elizabeth Johnson

What looks like a throw-away line actually packs a lot of wisdom.

Any moment you consider the greatest moment of your life sets up the same downhill scenario.

If your college graduation is greatest, what comes next?

If you consider the founding of your company, product launch, revenue or even profitability the greatest day of your life what will its acquisition or IPO be?

If the birth of your children rates as the greatest, what will their graduation, marriage, and their children’s births be?

Instead of setting up a downhill move from your life highlights, you can open the future to more just by removing the ‘est’.

If they are ‘great’ moments instead of ‘greatest’ then you are setting your self up for ‘greater’ moments.

Isn’t that a better life scenario?

It is only when you are dying that you can choose the ‘est’ in retrospect.

And I’m willing to bet that you will be hard-pressed to choose just one.

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Be the Thursday feature – Entrepreneurs: [your company name]
Share the story of your startup today.
Send it along with your contact information and I’ll be in touch.
Questions? Email or call me at 360.335.8054 Pacific time.

Flickr image credit: Joe Shlabotnik

Book Review: Improving Everything—the Power of PTO

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

In our wired era being available 24/7 generates both bragging rights and work/life balance complaints and nowhere more so than the high-powered world of management consulting.

It was in this world, as represented by a small team at Boston Consulting Group, that HBS professor Leslie A. Perlow initiated an experiment four years ago on the extreme benefits of “predictable time off” (PTO).

She shares the story and documents her findings in a new book called Sleeping With Your Smartphone.

Supposedly, the unpredictability working across time zones requires constant availability, but is that true?

“What caught our attention was that the more people were on, the more unpredictable their work time seemed to become.”

The key to success was predictability.

Perlow’s research started with a small team and three basic steps.

  1. “First, team members have to agree on a specific unit of time each week that everyone can turn off. Not at the same time, obviously, since team members have to cover for each other. In our first experiment, it was one night a week. But whatever the goal, it has to be valued by the team, as a group. It has to be small but doable. And it has to be concrete and measurable.”
  2. “Second, the team needs to meet weekly to discuss the challenges and successes they’re facing as they try to achieve the goal. These meetings are crucial for PTO to work, but they offer much more. They’re a regular forum for productive conversations about work, conversations that empower people to speak up. In theory, people are speaking up about process, which allows the team to meet the time-off goal. But really they’re speaking about all aspects of the work experience.”
  3. “Finally, the team’s leaders — bosses, managers — have to show support for the project and for team members’ efforts. That’s not just about allowing colleagues to speak up and to use their time off. It’s also about doing the same themselves.”

Four years later 86% of the consulting staff in Boston, New York, and Washington, DC are practicing PTO.

According to BCG’s CEO, Hans-Paul Bürkner, the process unleashed by these experiments “has proven not only to enhance work-life balance, making careers much more sustainable, but also to improve client value delivery, consultant development, business services team effectiveness, and overall case experience. It is becoming part of the culture—the future of BCG.”

Retention is up, job satisfaction is up, productivity is up, client satisfaction is up.

Given proven results and a reliable methodology to follow, PTO can be instituted by any manager at any level even where the over-arching culture is hostile.

Nor is there any need for HR approval.

Go ahead; reap all those rewards and be a hero to your team—all it takes is 20 bucks and synergistic MAP, both of which are in your direct control.

Image credit: Harvard Business School

Ducks in a Row: Guilt is Good

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

photos-aeu04117-449659020Guilt is a positive force or at least it can be as long as it is the right kind.

First, some background.

When people mess up they have one of two reactions, guilt or shame.

What is important to understand is that they neither the same nor is one the flip side of the other.

Whereas someone who feels guilty feels bad about a specific mistake and wants to make amends, a person who’s ashamed of a mistake feels bad about himself or herself and shrinks away from the error.

In other words, guilt embraces and focuses on fixing whatever, whereas shame runs away and hides.

This is important to you because in both controlled experiments and real-world feedback the guilt prone tend to have more initiative, AKA leadership.

In all the groups tested, the people who were most likely to be judged by others as the group’s leaders tended to be the same ones who had scored highest in guilt proneness. Not only that, but guilt proneness predicted emerging leadership even more than did extraversion,

As a manager, no matter your level, it is important to remember that everybody makes mistakes, causes errors or just plain screws up.

When interviewing, learning about mistakes, errors and screw-ups along with reactions and subsequent actions is often more important than knowing what candidates did correctly or their greatest strengths.

Initiative is one of the most valuable components of MAP and it’s difficult to evaluate when interviewing; after all, candidates are unlikely to say they don’t have any.

And that is why smart mangers hire MAP, not skills.

Flickr image credit: Murray Barnes

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