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Archive for January, 2014

If the Shoe Fits: Flat or Not?

Friday, January 31st, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mMany founders are considering following in Medium’s footsteps and eliminating all management from their company.

As one of the fiercest and most faithful adopters of Holacracy – a radical new theory of corporate structure — Medium is experimenting with a completely management-free environment that’s laser focused on getting things done.

Before you join the rush, you may want to consider Google, which tried the same thing before scrapping the idea.

That experiment lasted only a few months: They relented when too many people went directly to Page with questions about expense reports, interpersonal conflicts, and other nitty-gritty issues. And as the company grew, the founders soon realized that managers contributed in many other, important ways—for instance, by communicating strategy, helping employees prioritize projects, facilitating collaboration, supporting career development, and ensuring that processes and systems aligned with company goals.

Google is still pretty flat, considering it has 37,000 employees—5,000 managers, 1,000 directors, and 100 vice presidents.

Google started by doing what it does best—using analytics to prove to its engineers that managers have value.

Another is that managers often have 30 direct reports; a simple way to avoid micromanaging and encourage a focus on creating the best conditions in which to produce.

The effort starts at the recruiting stage; top grades and schools are not the guarantee they once were.

There is a major emphasis on cultural fit and a true understanding that it is the power of the individual, as opposed to a job title, that lifts the organization.

And, according to Eric Clayberg, a software-engineering manager, one big difference is that Google works at building managers’ skills; it doesn’t just promote and tell them to get on with it.

That is something that many companies, from startup to Fortune 50, still haven’t learned.

Good managers aren’t born; they are developed through a learned set of skills combined with the right attitude and culture.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Do You Really Want to be a CEO?

Thursday, January 30th, 2014


Founders love styling themselves as CEOs.

(I did it too, back when I started RampUp Solutions.)

It says you are in charge; the boss.

Plus, it sounds cool.

As CEO, you are responsible for formulating and articulating the company’s vision to employees, investors and the media.

Heady stuff.

You are also directly responsible for creating a winning culture, developing viable financial plans, instituting a solid hiring process and a wide range of other administrative actions.

No matter what happens—good, bad, or indifferent—you are the person held responsible for everything by the board, investors, employees and media.

As the company grows there are more business and human headaches meaning less time for hands-on creativity.

CEO isn’t a 70, 80 or even 100 hour a week job; it’s a 168 hour, 24/7 job.

It’s not the right job or even a good job for many founders.

Founders need to understand that giving up the CEO role can be the smartest, wisest, and most perceptive decision they will ever make (just ask Brad Feld).

Flickr image credit: TechCocktail

A Question of Conscience

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014


Would you say

“If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain.”

“you are clearly retarded, i hope someone shoots then rapes you.”

“Amanda, I’ll fucking rape you. How does that feel?”

“I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for ‘manslaughter’, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks.” “Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.” There was more, but the final tweet summed it up: “You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this.”

to your wife/girlfriend; your mother; your sister; your female colleagues, etc., because their opinion of a movie, joke, politics, etc., differed from yours?


Then why do you accept it or just shrug it off when it’s done anonymously on social sites like Twitter?

And while anonymous trolls are bad, having it done openly and accepted is significantly worse.

What especially alarmed me about what happened to Ms. Harmon and me is that it was set in motion by people and organizations who are out in the open — a signal that this kind of attack is broadly seen as acceptable, or even funny.

Last week I shared several links that looked at some of the problems that keep women from STEM careers.

However, I seriously doubt that girls and young women who read these posts and attendant comments are encouraged to makes themselves into career piñatas.

Edmund Burke said, “All it takes for evil to succeed is for a few good men to do nothing…”

Are you one of the few?

Flickr image credit: Andy Ramdin

Ducks in a Row: When Trust is not Enough

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014


How would you respond if you were head of a global professional company with more than 1,400 partners, 18,500 employees and a culture built on values, trust and honor when the values were ignored, trust was broken and the organization dishonored by someone at the highest level?

That was the challenge that Dominic Barton faced shortly after he became head of consulting firm McKinsey.

The values that Marvin Bower, its longtime managing director, instilled included putting the clients’ interests above the firm’s, providing independent advice and keeping confidences. These ideas were imparted from one generation to the next, mentor to apprentice. But after Anil Kumar’s arrest [he pleaded guilty] in late 2009, Mr. Barton, who had been elected to head the firm just months earlier, decided that the honor-driven, values-based system was not enough. What the firm needed was some rules.

Powerful people do not take kindly to rules and nobody takes kindly to rules that result from someone else’s actions—especially when they impact one’s income.

Ethical people like to believe that defining values and modeling them across the organization from the top down is enough.

It’s not.

An exceptional CEO I worked with who detested politics believed it was enough that his senior staff couldn’t use politics to get ahead with him. What he refused to recognize was that even though the political games didn’t work on him they wreaked havoc on those below the game-players.

This is especially true in the current world where greed, whether for wealth and/or power, is epidemic and “enough” no longer has any meaning.

But to work, the rules must apply evenly to everybody, at all levels, including the rule maker.

Flickr image credit: Andrew Scott

The Power of WIIFM

Monday, January 27th, 2014


99.9% of people recognize the power of WIIFM (meaning “what’s in it for me” in deference to the .01%).

Even to an early adopter/cynic like me its power can boggle the mind, especially when it moves economic behemoths to switch sides in a bitter debate like climate change.

The latest example of WIIFM in action is Coke.

Today, after a decade of increasing damage to Coke’s balance sheet as global droughts dried up the water needed to produce its soda, the company has embraced the idea of climate change as an economically disruptive force.

Ya think?

Of course, I can think of hundreds of more serious consequences from the global water shortage than a lack of soda pop.

WIIFM also fuels government fraud and, barring sales to the military, there is no fraud target more appealing than Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

This is also an area where corporate fraud transcends individual fraud by orders of magnitude.

While politicos love to point to illegal immigrants as a large source of fraud, because blame is most easily placed on those with the least lobbying power, it is, in fact, organized citizens, doctors and the corporate medical world like the HMA hospital chain, which grades its emergency room doctors based on daily hospital admissions—whether needed or not.

Physicians hitting the target to admit at least half of the patients over 65 years old who entered the emergency department were color-coded green. The names of doctors who were close were yellow. Failing physicians were red.

Never underestimate the power of WIIFM.

Flickr image credit: SueKing2011

If the Shoe Fits: are You Addicted to Wealth?

Friday, January 24th, 2014

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


This is a short post, because I want you to read the longer one at the link.

In an opinion piece, Sam Polk, a former hedge-fund trader and current founder of the nonprofit Groceryships, talks about wealth addiction.

Wealth addiction was described in 1980 by the late sociologist and playwright Philip Slater, but Polk speaks about it from a been there/done that perspective.

I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.

Read the post, then look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are or are getting addicted.

Wealth addiction isn’t a case of wanting to get rich; it is a case of nothing is enough.

And it applies to more than money—from followers to titles to trophy relationships and everything in-between.

 Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Get Involved

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014


Entrepreneurs who make a difference are my favorite people, whether they do it in for-profit or non-profit mode.

The two I’m highlighting today are both non-profits and both are doing the kind of innovation you’ll want to support.

What do you consider the most basic need for the poor, isolated, rural villages in African nations? If your response is sanitation, clean water, access to healthcare or education you would be one level too high.

All of those mentioned are like apps, but apps that need a common platform to work. So the most basic need; the one that makes the others possible is energy.

And energy is what Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari’s non-profit supplies.

Innovation: Africa, a non-profit that brings Israeli innovation to African villages. In five years, Innovation: Africa has provided electricity, clean water, food and medical care to more than 450,000 people in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda.

While solar panels solved the energy-generation problem, the system wasn’t sustainable, because there was no money to replace the needed light bulbs and batteries.

Innovation: Africa solved that by helping create a micro business that generated enough revenue to pay the replacement costs.

People come from the villages surrounding the clinic to charge their cell phones, paying 10 to 15 cents. That money is collected, deposited in a bank and used for two things. One, to buy light bulbs. Second, to replace the batteries. So, we are providing the villagers the solar energy and also a way to generate income so that they can sustain it.

Sound interesting? Why not put a group together and adopt a project?

The best practice would be to adopt a project; we have at least 38 villages now that are waiting for energy. We know that it’s quite urgent. We would like to do it by 2014. …adopt a specific school or an orphanage, a medical clinic and speak to those children directly and figure out their needs.

D-Rev is a non-profit product development group whose solutions sit atop that energy platform.

Its original focus was to redesign medical devices for poor areas (the first is a phototherapy system that addresses the widespread problem of infant jaundice) and then work with third-party, for-profit distribution companies.

But that didn’t work.

“We thought if you design a good product, it will scale on its own,” Krista Donaldson said. “That works in efficient markets, but most developing communities don’t have efficient markets.” (…) D-Rev has had to become far more involved than it expected in financial models, licensing deals, consulting services and manufacturing arrangements. In essence, it is redesigning not only high-tech products but also supply chains and procurement systems.

I hope you will take a few minutes to read the articles and choose to get involved; if not with one of these then find something that ignites your passion and, as Nike would say, just do it.

Image credit: Innovation: Africa

Y-Gender News

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

I am truly tired of listening to the likes of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg talk abut women in the workplace when, in fact, their world bears no relationship to the majority of women locally or globally.

Elite women, like their male counterparts, marry later and have fewer children than their less-educated sisters. They take shorter breaks from paid full-time employment (a reverse from past trends) and claim an ever greater share of overall female income while relying on nannies and other household help.

Also, I’ve always doubted that having hot women wearing minimal outfits as a booth attraction at tradeshows gives a company an edge. And guess what? It doesn’t.

Booth babes do NOT convert. How do I know? Well, I actually split-tested this a few years ago and the results were indisputable. If you have invested in a trade show to generate new business, using booth babes is a lead conversion boat anchor. –Spencer Chen, marketing professional

Interesting research from Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Jill J. Avery focuses on the effect female cooties have on masculine brands. Who knew that masculinity was so very fragile?

“Gender contamination occurs when one gender is using a brand as a symbol of their masculinity or femininity, and the incursion of the other gender into the brand threatens that… Girls and women seem to have more freedom to consume products and brands commonly associated with the other gender than boys and men, who are more tightly constrained by the prevailing views of masculinity that associate being masculine with avoiding anything feminine.

Then there’s the ongoing problem of women in STEM—or the lack of them, actually.

There is a lot of systemic bias in the system against young women taking this kind of direction with their studies and their career. And we must change that bias and it must be changed at the middle school level.

While many recognize that solutions need to be applied in middle school or sooner, new research shows that just having a male teacher may impede progress and intimidate interest.

The stereotype that men are better at math than women is so ingrained in our culture that women feel stereotype threat — and as a result, perform more poorly in math — just from watching a man take a dominant role in a math study group.

IBM is one company that is actively fighting back.

Women have played a key role in some of the most important innovations in IBM’s history. Meet some of them through the Technologista series that celebrates some of these accomplishments.

I think my favorite pro STEM-for-girls is Debbie Sterling, who starts much earlier. She’s the entrepreneur who not only didn’t buy into the hype, but also created toys to combat it.

Who said girls want to dress in pink and play with dolls, especially when they could be building Rube Goldberg machines instead?

YouTube credit: GoldiBlox 

Ducks in a Row: the Need to Change

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014


Media, including me, have termed Millennials the “entitled generation,” but, as with most things, there are two sides to the coin.

Over the last few years I’ve written about what I call “aMillennials” and I still think the term is apt.

As they age, the difference has become clearer.

Some Millennials still seem to think they are entitled to a job because they are there and promoted because they show up; in general, they feel they are owed something by the world at large.

aMillennials believe they should be hired because they can contribute, challenged to grow and that hard work will get them promoted.

They also have the silly idea that there is more to life than work.

 “There’s a huge gap across the generations in terms of how people look at the whole question of time and commitment and what that means,” said Stewart D. Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project and the author of “Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family.”

They crave transparently, have little patience with corporate games and vote with their feet when stymied.

“People are just more disaffected now with that kind of lifestyle and want to have a greater sense of control,” Mr. Friedman said. “Where companies don’t provide that sense of meaning and purpose, their brand as employer is weakened. They’re not going to be able to compete for the best and the brightest.”

aMillenial-style entitlement is even invading the hallowed halls of Wall Street.

“The longstanding tradition of 100-hour work weeks, that’s not going to be easy to change, but I applaud these efforts,” Mr. Friedman said. “The young people, after two years in an analyst program at a bank on Wall Street, they’re burnt out, they’re saying ‘I don’t want to live like this.’”

Given the attitude, you can expect careers, from medicine to finance, that have historically included long hours, total immersion, high stress and total commitment to change and the changes will be wrenching.

What it means to business, both large and small, is a willingness to provide meaningful work as opposed to just a paycheck—no matter how fat.

Please join me Friday for a first person look at this change and another view on what’s driving it.

Flickr image credit: Jannes Pockele

How to Live

Monday, January 20th, 2014

I thought I’d share some advice with you today.

It comes in two parts with images you can save and share (just call me InstaMAP).

I’ve always believed that humans shouldn’t talk in absolutes, such as ‘always’ and ‘never’.

That said, I have found the following to be as universally applicable, i.e., absolute, as is humanly possible.

I especially like it because it underlines that you always have a choice.


Sometimes people choose not to find a way for reasons that seem valid, but most don’t hold up to scrutiny.

The following provides a roadmap for how they should behave.


Flickr image credit: Arya Ziai 1 & 2

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