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Archive for January, 2013

Entrepreneurs: Lessons from South Park

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/popculturegeek/7640804586/

If you listen to the content industries, they are being killed by disruptive technologies, but is that true?

Not according to Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who have built an empire on content, with no consideration for the so-called disruptive platforms that have shown up over the last two decades. Originally created as shorts that went viral on the Internet, South Park became a series in 1997 making its creators multimillionaires and Comedy Central a force to be reckoned with.

“Disruption is overrated,” Stone said. “If you tell good stories, the platforms are sort of beside the point. We made the most analog thing you can think of, a play at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, and it worked out as well as anything we have ever done.”

He went on to suggest that each time new a distribution avenue opens, it has become a window of opportunity for their content.

Stone and Parker’s success was built on prescience, they negotiated a 50-50 split on all digital revenue before digital revenue meant anything, and patience, they keep control by investing their own money so they can take their time with new projects.

“Owning your own stuff means that you control not only the content, but the life you are living while you are producing it.”

There are worse things than being frugal and growing organically.

Like being forced into an early exit or excessive growth to give your investors their return.

Join me tomorrow for a look at the lengths one company went to in order to put the brakes on its explosive growth.

Flickr image credit: Pop Culture Geek

Ducks in a Row: The Old is New Again

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/smallbox/127555069/If you are a manager at any level I suggest you take time to read the results of research on managing from the London School of Economics.

“…concentrate on putting into practice things that we know work but somehow never do — less Management 2.0, more making Management 1.0 work properly. At least on the face of it, a surprising amount can be altered for the better, with little investment and to significant effect. (…) focus on why we don’t put into practice principles of good management that aren’t rocket science and have been known about for years.”

Management by walking around, spending time with your team; listening; coaching; cross-training—definitely not rocket science!

Your approach need not be as tightly structured as described in the article, because that was done in order to rigorously evaluate and measure the results for publication.

Basically the study proves what the best managers already know and practice—it’s people that make the difference and the difference is measurable.

You can achieve similar results in your group, whether your company uses the same approach or not.

Set your own goal to practice Management 1.0 actions consistently and authentically.

Then (as Nike says) just do it.

Flickr image credit: Ol.v!er [H2vPk]

Stopping Instead of Passing the Buck

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Back when I had more time and I wrote for Technorati I talked about the importance of taking responsibility and, based on current events, it’s time to reprise that idea, but rather than writing it all over again I am reprinting it here.

Bucking “I Didn’t Know”

25 years ago Iran-Contra brought forth the claims of ignorance from Ronald Reagan, President of the United States.

The News Corp scandal unfolded amidst the emphatic protestations by Rupert Murdoch and son James that they knew nothing about the phone hacking and that it certainly wasn’t wide spread.

Ex Atlanta schools chief Dr. Beverly L. Hall claims she knew nothing of the cheating that was rife across the entire school system that she ran.

And my reaction now is exactly the same as it was a quarter of a century ago; ‘did they know’ was the wrong question.

In fact, the focus shouldn’t even be a question, but a statement, ‘they should have known’.

Truman_pass-the-buckHarry S. Truman, another President of the US, had a sign on his desk that said, “The Buck Stops Here,” a sentiment you don’t hear much about these days.

Rather, when something goes wrong, whether in business, politics, education or religion, what we hear is “I/we didn’t know” or we are given reasons and the givers assume that the reasons make the act acceptable.

People who claim positions of leadership create/condone the culture under which everyone else operates.

They must understand that the position requires them to take responsibility—no matter what happens on their watch—and the higher the position the greater the responsibility.

That damn buck needs to stop.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Article first published as Bucking “I Didn’t Know” on Technorati

Quotable Quotes: Words in Use

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonassink/5463843866/

Words can provide encouragement and add value—or do the opposite. Listen carefully beyond the surface of a person’s words and you will know that person’s heart and even their soul.

There is no attribution, but every manager and thinking person knows the truth of this comment, “A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success.”

Answers aren’t always the best use of words as Naguib Mahfouz reminds us, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

There’s an old saying that goes “open mouth insert foot,” but Lawrence J. Peter says it far more elegantly, “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Those who spend (waste?) time trying to refute the myriad of lies found in modern media would do well to remember the words of William McAdoo, “It is impossible to defeat an ignorant person in an argument.”

Listening to the politicians, pundits and corporate titans always reminds me of this old Chinese proverb, “The longer the explanation, the bigger the lie.”

And I think I’ll let the words of Jimi Hendrix round out today’s thoughts; “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” Can’t say it more clearly than that.

Image credit: Jon Assink

Expand Your Mind: Just for Fun

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

expand-your-mindOK, I admit it. I don’t feel like putting together a meaningful group of articles that offer insights or enhance your professional persona. Instead, I’m going to share four articles that I found interesting and/or amusing that provide little outside of interesting dinner conversation.

Winter weather often annoys gardeners; either the weather is yucky enough to take reduce the pleasure of being out (me) or so bad it’s impossible. This article is an almost lyrical look at winter gardens, especially for those who live in areas of true winter (not me) where everything seems to die except the evergreens.

We cry that the earth is draggy, the garden defunct. But as usual we’re actually whimpering about ourselves. (…) For in truth, our gardens haven’t gone anywhere at all. It is we who have elected to migrate someplace else for the season; that is, to a cocoon made of duvet, cookie crumbs and tubs of Eucerin.

I am a firm and vocal proponent of “doing good by doing [it] right” and so was fascinated to read an excerpt from the story of the building of Grand Central Station, which shows the idea has been around a lot longer than most people realize.

William J. Wilgus, the chief engineer for the New York Central Railroad, unabashedly proclaimed, “marked the opening of a remarkable opportunity for the accomplishment of a public good with considerations of private gain in behalf of the corporation involved.”

Libraries loan out all kinds of media these days, but it took a librarian’s innovative turn-of-mind to think of loaning out a donated doll.

When Ms. Taube became the children’s librarian in 2004, she found Kirsten languishing on a forgotten shelf in a library office within earshot of the busy children’s room, because library workers considered her too expensive to risk damage by displaying. (…) “I thought, ‘Well, we loan out books that are that expensive, so why can’t we lend her out too?’” said Ms. Taube, who hoped the doll would attract more children to the branch, leading them to read the doll books.

Last, but not least, is an opinion piece from the one and only Woody Allen who took time from his busy schedule to explain the difference between a hypochondriac and an alarmist. (This is especially for Julie.)

…I am not a hypochondriac but a totally different genus of crackpot? What I am is an alarmist, which is in the same ballpark as the hypochondriac or, should I say, the same emergency room. Still there is a fundamental difference. I don’t experience imaginary maladies — my maladies are real.

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

If the Shoe Fits: Antidote to Pain

Friday, January 25th, 2013

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhether you’re looking for funding, creating a website or presenting to a potential customer, you would be wise to remember the words of Kon Leong, co-founder, president and chief executive of ZL Technologies.

“You have to present your story in their context, not yours.”

In Real Estate sales it’s well-known that only three things matter, location, location, location.

When creating an executive summary or presenting to investors only three things matter, market, market, market. Yet founders tend fill up the space or spend the time on how cool their technology or impressive their team.

When building a website, whether B2B or B2C, only three things matter, WIFM, WIFM, WIFM (what’s in it for me), but too often the focus is on the coolness of the product with the customer benefits almost an afterthought.

In all cases the same thing underlies what matters—pain.

Identify the pain, communicate how your product or service makes the hurt go away and they will buy.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Where There’s a Will…

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

 

MilkandHoney shoesLast week I told you about an entrepreneur who insisted that a new winery was a business, not a startup and why I thought that was ridiculous.

Based on his thoughts, Zappos was not a startup nor was it scalable, but I’m sure that founder Tony Hsieh and acquirer Amazon have more than a billion reasons to disagree.

Now comes Milk& Honey, another startup that sells shoes online—a business using e-commerce; not exactly revolutionary, but one that is scalable and, once it proves itself, a prime acquisition target for someone like Zappos/Amazon.

In Ms. Howard’s case, that meant starting a business with her sister, Ilissa Howard, 39, in a field where neither had any business experience: fashion.

Make that two fields. Milk & Honey Shoes, their shoe company that allows women to design their own stilettos and pumps with the click of a mouse, is also an e-commerce business despite the fact that the sisters had zero tech expertise when they began.

Yes, they added a major tweak so that customers can design their own shoes, but even that isn’t original, Shoes of Prey is a direct competitor and Nike and Converse do it for sneakers.

What’s more, the sisters did the original funding from their savings; Milk & Honey, started in 2011, has already doubled sales, the company is profitable and they are now looking for investors.

Just as entrepreneurs come from many backgrounds, startups come in many flavors.

It’s a good lesson that applying labels and limits to human creativity, let alone human will, is a losing proposition at least 99% of the time.

Flickr image credit: Milk & Honey Shoes

 

Single Loop vs. Double Loop

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sirispjelkavik/2801926735/

I frequently write about the importance of self-awareness, knowing yourself, understanding your MAP  and looking in the mirror for solutions when problems arise, instead of assuming the cause and its fix are external.

In the 1970s, Chris Argyris, a business theorist at Harvard Business School started researching the effect of obstacles on organizations and people and found two distinct responses.

Professor Argyris called the most common response single loop learning — an insular mental process in which we consider possible external or technical reasons for obstacles.

LESS common but vastly more effective is the cognitive approach that Professor Argyris called double-loop learning. In this mode we question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions.

While finding the answers within, instead of without, is the subject of a new book, it will take more than a book about high achievers to induce people to look inside first instead of as a last resort.

Why is looking inside so difficult for most people?

Probably because it requires an objective, no-holds-barred, nothing-is-sacred look at every opinion, thought and assumption we have.

It is a concentrated effort that can’t be done while multitasking or in-between games of Angry Birds.

In many ways this kind of intense self-assessment plays against current social norms and, for many, even how they were raised.

So the question becomes, is the gain worth the pain?

It is if what you really want are solutions to problems and success in your endeavors.

Flickr image credit: Siri Spjelkavik

Ducks in a Row: Ugly Culture

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/swolff13/7477441332/Ugly culture is culture that is fragmented and doesn’t work together.

According to top researchers this is a function of the different mindsets between operational, executive and engineering.

Three viewpoints equal three cultures (requires free registration).

And while I’m certainly not anything like the experts mentioned in the article I don’t believe it’s a given.

I also find the so-called typical mindset of each group to be more a function of the past than the current, let alone future, mindsets, especially of entrepreneurs and those ascending to executive ranks and the top slots of many companies.

Granted, the larger the company the more likely to find those attitudes, but it’s not a given.

The experts see three silos, operational, executive and engineering, completely ignoring multiple other vertical and horizontal silos.

Of course, the article is 11 years old, so the question is ‘does it still apply’?

Does your workplace reflect these three silos or is the current reality far more nuanced?

Flickr image credit: Sam Wolff

Who’s Life?

Monday, January 21st, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gi/127555697/A client is contending with what is becoming a serious problem in her organization.

Her people are so busy following, discussing, critiquing and, at times, judging their teammates that their own work is suffering.

The interest isn’t new but the rise of social media, both internal and external, is exacerbating what used to take place around the proverbial water cooler.

What is it these days? When did this fascination with every nook and cranny of other people’s lives start displacing one’s own?

Is this oh-so-prevalent voyeurism really a product of the Internet and the rise of social media or does it stem from something else?

Is it real interest, whether harmless or prurient, or is it an effort to fill the gaping hole left when people pour their energy into the external and cyber worlds at the cost of knowing and liking themselves?

Getting to know yourself and your MAP  may not be as much fun and is definitely more work than following and commenting on other people’s lives, but in the long run it feels pretty good to lose that hollow feeling.

Flickr image credit: Gisela Giardino

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