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Archive for September, 2012

Quotable Quotes: Richard Freyman

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_FeynmanIn addition to winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, Richard Feynman was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time by Physics World. I find most of what he says applies easily to the business world as well as my personal world.

“Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which ‘are’ there.” Innovators are supposed to see around corners and provide us with things we never dreamed of, but what of all that is and never even noticed as we pass through the world.

“We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.” This is so true; I wish more scientists would admit it and stop presenting their efforts, which change so quickly, as “answers,” especially in the medical arena.

Here is another one that should be taken to heart by pharmaceutical and medical researchers, “When things are going well, something will go wrong. When things just can’t get any worse, they will. Anytime things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.”

That statement leads us to another of Feynman’s insights, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

If you buy that, then this next idea will definitely resonate with you, “The idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

Is science a constantly expanding and changing body of information or, as Feynman says, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts?”

I’m not sure how well Feynman would do in today’s world of personal branding and flaunted ego. A guy who says, “I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb” is unlikely to provide sound bites on “lay” matters—especially one who publicly states, “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.

Hat tip to Wally Bock for introducing me to Richard Freynman

Image credit: Wikipedia

Expand Your Mind: State of Gender in the Workplace

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

A couple of weeks ago we took a look at the State of the Workplace; today we’re taking a look at the state of gender in the workplace.

There is no question that the workforce is changing and many of those changes are along gender lines.

In the last decade, men, especially working-class and middle-class men, have had very different experiences in this economy from the women around them.

However, in case you hadn’t noticed, bias is alive and well in the workplace in many ways.

Considering the tremendous shortage of science and technology grads, one might think that bias would be a thing of the past. Ha! Think again.

Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills, a new study by researchers at Yale concluded. (…) Female professors were just as biased against women students as their male colleagues, and biology professors just as biased as physics professors — even though more than half of biology majors are women, whereas men far outnumber women in physics.

Companies and higher education talk a great deal about diversity and many have diversity programs in place, but what they don’t (can’t?) address is the subtle bias that happens before anything happens.

Much of the talk about ending workplace discrimination focuses on gateways (…) But some of the biggest barriers to a truly diverse applicant pool and workforce may actually be occurring at the stage just before that…

Research has proven that, male or females, attractive people have an edge when interviewing; new research shows that certain actions can change perceptions—such as shaving your head if you’re going bald.

Specifically, men with shaved heads were viewed as more masculine and dominant than other men. But it doesn’t end there: Two of the experiments showed that such men were perceived as taller (by an inch, on average) and stronger (that is, seen as being able to bench press 13% more) than those men who were well-coiffed. They were also viewed as having greater potential as leaders. (…) “The broad take-away is that perceptions about leadership and related traits like dominance can emerge from peculiar characteristics that aren’t really related to leadership at all. (…) There is evidence, for instance, that unconventional dress in women is viewed as status-enhancing. So women may have more of an impact just by engaging in unconventional behavior.”

Enjoy your Saturday!

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

If the Shoe Fits: Defy the Norm

Friday, September 28th, 2012

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDo you recommend sharing entrepreneurial skills and experience with others?

Are you willing to put you’re money and time where your mouth is?

Creativity, innovation, focus and execution are as much key factors in crimes as diverse as financial scams and drug dealing as they are in entrepreneurism.

Defy Ventures is the name of a non-profit in New York.

Defy (v.): To challenge or dare a person to do something deemed impossible.

Defy Ventures shows felons how to pivot and put their entrepreneurial skills to work legitimately.

Today, whether you are an entrepreneur or investor, I defy you to start a similar effort wherever you live.

And if you choose to accept the challenge, please let me know and share your experiences here.

Option Sanity™ defies conventional ISO allocation.

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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.

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Entrepreneurs: Reference Checking

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/us_embassy_newzealand/7904412676/Continued from last week

Reference checking is where a lot of bad hires happen.

The three major factors that negatively affect reference checking are

  • unskilled or inept reference checking;
  • assumptive reference checking; and
  • procrastination.

The first is the easiest to overcome, since reference checking is a learnable skill.

The second is a matter of overcoming selective hearing.

The third is more difficult, because procrastination is part of MAP.

It is also of critical importance to check all levels, not just bosses.

Some managers completely skip reference checking or delegate the responsibility to a third party either because they can’t be bothered or consider the time spent wasted; others may do it, but they are careless or sloppy for the same reasons.

Believe it or not, I know of managers who check “likes” and “followers” rather than references.

Yet these managers are usually the biggest complainers when a hire goes wrong.

In short, just as preparation is the key to most things it is definitely the key to successful hiring.

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Flickr image credit: US Embassy

CEOs are Just Like Us Finally!

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gdsdigital/4963409391/Finally!

The news that we’ve all been waiting for—unless you’re a CEO who is paid relative to your counterparts.

According to new research by Charles M. Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, and Craig K. Ferrere, one of its Edgar S. Woolard fellows, the whole idea that a CEO will quit if he isn’t paid more than his peers is, to use a technical term, hogwash.

…contrary to the prevailing line, that chief executives can’t readily transfer their skills from one company to another. In other words, the argument that C.E.O.’s will leave if they aren’t compensated well, perhaps even lavishly, is bogus. (…) “It’s a false paradox,” Mr. Elson said in an interview last week. “The peer group is based on the theory of transferability of talent. But we found that C.E.O. skills are very firm-specific. C.E.O.’s don’t move very often, but when they do, they’re flops.”

Surprise, surprise.

For ‘firm-specific’ read culture and colleagues—the same two things that impact any worker’s success.

Flickr image credit: GDS Infographics (click the graphic to see a large version)

Ducks in a Row: Atonement and Repentance

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/memestate/3577193781/Today the Jewish world celebrates Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar.

The central themes of Yom Kippur are atonement and repentance.

Jews believe that before one can be forgiven one must right any wrongs done to others and apologize for them.

From a strictly secular view it means not only taking responsibility for your own actions, but also cleaning up any messes resulting from them.

For example, if you took credit for someone else’s idea then you need to admit it and make sure the other person receives the credit (atonement), directly apologize to that person (repentance) and not do it again.

Repeating the behavior makes it obvious that there is no real remorse and that you see getting caught as the true offense.

Flickr image credit: Rich Anderson

Ignoring the Obvious

Monday, September 24th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/deakaz/7222665276/You would have to live on a different planet or in an alternate reality to have escaped the Facebook media frenzy.

Starting with ‘when’s it going to happen’ and escalating from the day Facebook announced it was going public through the IPO and tanking of the stock there has been no letup.

Every knowledgeable source and pundit on the planet, from financial types, the startup world, politicians and you-name-it, have weighed in with their analysis of what happened.

The real reason is so obvious that it doesn’t even qualify as a lack due diligence.

They simply didn’t bother to read Mark Zukerberg’s letter to investors, let alone the Facebook’s IPO prospectus.

I found it ironic that it was Henry Blodget, banned from the securities industry for lying in his stock analyses, who pointed out in simple, readable language, where the true responsibility lay for those who lost money.

If you would like to understand what really happened read Blodget’s article and the next time the subject comes up (which I guarantee it will) you’ll be able to expound to the benefit of whomever is present that there really were no surprises and nothing that’s happened since should have been unexpected.

Zukerberg and Facebook are acting exactly as they said they would in print.

It’s a good lesson for everybody, not just investors.

When doing due diligence, always read carefully, instead of trusting what is said, let alone the hype.

Flickr image credit: Craig Deakin

Oddball Facts: Adversity and Accomplishment

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/642052Adversity: a condition marked by misfortune, calamity, or distress. Plenty of that around these days, but adversity is relative and doesn’t necessarily preclude world-shattering accomplishments. Consider these examples of adversity and accomplishment.

  • Sir Walter Raleigh, after getting in deep doo-doo with the queen, spent 13 years in prison. How did he spend his time? He wrote The History of the World.
  • Beethoven composed his greatest music after he went deaf.
  • The poet Dante worked–and died–in exile.
  • Daniel DeFoe wrote Robinson Crusoe while in prison.
  • Pilgrim’s Progress was penned by John Bunyan during his imprisonment in Bedford Jail.
  • He was too poor to buy paper so he used scraps of leather. That’s how Miguel de Cervantes managed to produce Don Quixote while jailed in Madrid.

If you want more current examples think about Dawn Loggins, whose life started among bullying, a broken home, drug use, squalor and, finally, abandonment by her parents, but was just accepted to Harvard.

Or Samantha Garvey of Long Island, who spent the last year in a homeless shelter with her family, but was one of 300 semi-finalists for the annual Intel Science Talent Search.

Now, what were you saying about adversity?

Hat tip to Steve Roesler for the historical adversity list.

Image credit: emospada

Expand Your Mind: a Look at “Leaders”

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

The word “leader” is all over the news; media loves talking about individual “leaders.” Executives and people in positions of power have worked hard for decades to perpetuate the myth that leaders are magical and larger-than-life; special, unique, irreplaceable and, above all, can’t be duplicated. But that emperor has no clothes, according to HBS Assistant Professor Gautam Mukunda, who, in his new book, Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter, kicks large holes in the myth that individual leaders really make a difference. (Book excerpt)

The result was his Leader Filtration Theory, or LFT, which states that a leader’s impact can be predicted by his or her career. The more unfiltered the leader, the larger the prospect of big impact. The more a leader has relevant experience, the less chance of high impact.

No where is the talk of “leaders” greater than in the political arena, especially during a Presidential election. An opinion piece focused on whether being gregarious is a requirement of leadership.

Culturally, we tend to associate leadership with extroversion and attach less importance to judgment, vision and mettle. We prize leaders who are eager talkers over those who have something to say.

The commentary reminded me of an excellent article last year by Douglas R. Conant, retired Campbell Soup CEO, on why introverted (as defined by Meyers-Briggs) bosses are just as capable and actually may have an edge.

As an introvert, I enjoy being by myself. I sometimes feel drained if I have to be in front of large groups of people I don’t know. After I’ve been in a social situation — including a long day at work — I need quiet time to be alone with my thoughts and recharge.

One way so-called leaders, (I prefer the more neutral term ‘boss’) can make a difference is found in how they treat people; one trait they all have in common is their approachability and engagement with everybody, not just their senior staff.

68 year-old Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew, is and a well known face in all aspects and locations of the company—with employees and customers.

He visits every office, store and distribution center, and makes an effort to meet every new employee, although he’s always Mickey, not Mr. Drexler. (…) He’s been known to personally respond to a letter from a shopper who has a problem or a suggestion.

That involvement and initiative encouragement isn’t age-related. Thirty-something Ben Lerer, co-founder and C.E.O. of the Thrillist Media Group, encourages the same kind of action from his people through the culture he built.

One thing that we preach at work all day long is “don’t hope.” What that means is don’t wait for somebody to do something for you. Don’t do something 90 percent well and hope that it’ll slide through. Don’t rely on luck. You have to make your own luck. The only thing you can do is try your absolute best to do the right thing.

Finally, for those of you who want more on leadership checkout the information and interviews available at McKinsey’s Leading in the 21st century (free registration required).

In today’s volatile environment, leaders of global organizations must master a slate of challenges unseen in business history. In this feature, McKinsey talks with seven leaders and Wharton professor Michael Useem about the new fundamentals of leading in the 21st century.

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

If the Shoe Fits: Open to Disruption

Friday, September 21st, 2012

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWednesday I showcased tech careers that have nothing to do with startups, consumers, or social media.

If you plan to spend the sweat, blood and tears it takes to start a company isn’t it best to start one with the greatest chance of succeeding?

Then why not follow in the market steps of Palo Alto Networks, Jive, and Splunk, instead of Facebook and Groupon?

According to Sequoia Capital’s Jim Goetz, the $500 Billion market for enterprise software is ripe for disruption; doing so makes you far more likely to succeed.

“At Sequoia, upwards of a hundred entrepreneurs a week present and if we’re lucky, maybe a dozen of them are focusing on the enterprise. In the last 10 years, there have been 56 IPOs in the enterprise space that have gotten north of a billion [dollars in market capitalization] and just 23 in consumer.”

I have a somewhat cynical take on why there’s a shortage of enterprise startups.

  • Enterprise solutions rarely start in a dorm room.
  • You need to have some familarity with a market to disrupt it.
  • It’s difficult to create a solution to problems of which you are unaware, haven’t experienced and wouldn’t know how to solve if you had.
  • It’s easier to create something jazzy and fun and give it away than it is to solve a real problem that must be bought (with real money).

Appearances can be deceiving, but looking at the management of Palo Alto Networks, Jive Software and Splunk it seems that only one founder (Jive) was actually “young” when the company started.

Another thing is that they didn’t fast-track to their IPO based on hope and hype; instead they IPOed on revenues and real growth.

These are the kind of companies that grow, add value and help create a new middle-class.

Be sure to join me next Wednesday for a look at founder Henry Ford’s thoughts on that subject and why you should care.

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

Warning.
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

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