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Archive for June, 2014

Milestone 3500

Monday, June 30th, 2014

butterfly_bottomToday marks a small, in the scheme of things, accomplishment for me.

It is my 3500th post, counting both MAPping Company Success and Leadership Turn, which I wrote for B5 media.

The count isn’t perfect, since I freely admit that I fudged now and then using posts from here on Leadership Turn and vice

butterfly_bottom

versa, reposted a few over the years and then there are the guest posts.

But the WordPress counter says 3500 and I’ll take it.

I am also giving myself the day off.

But just in case you do need some inspiration today, click over to the July Leadership Development Carnival; you can’t go wrong.

I hope you all enjoy my milestone as much as I plan to!

If the Shoe Fits: Scott Adams on Pivots

Friday, June 27th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn the dim past (1980s on) when I started working with startups they were carefully thought out, market sensitive/smart, with much of the effort focused on being able to sell the product, AKA, generate revenue, whether hardware or software.

They rarely needed to pivot.

The rise of the Internet/web/cloud/mobile and the falling cost of software development, with a focus on iterations and eyeballs, created a different approach and pivoting became the name of the game.

While ‘pivot’ has many definitions, the one that seems most accurate in many cases is “throw it up and see what sticks.”

According to Dilbert’s Scott Adams, this is how to do a startup today.

Here’s the system:
1. Form a team
2. Slap together an idea and put it on the Internet.
3. Collect data on user behavior.
4. Adjust, pivot, and try again.

Thanks to Google Analytics, Optimizely, Bitly, and other tools for measuring customer behavior in real time, a smart team can try different approaches and different products until something works out. A start-up in 2014 is a guess-testing machine.

Adams says this is why good founders have to be good psychologists.

Every entrepreneur is now a psychologist by trade. The ONLY thing that matters to success in our anything-is-buildable Internet world is psychology. How does the customer perceive this product? What causes someone to share? What makes virality happen? What makes something sticky?

Much of what Adams says makes sense, but are these the ideas or solutions that can recharge our economy, juice the job market or solve humanities ills?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: the Chief Hustler

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

kg_charles-harris

As the CEO of a startup, I’m really nothing more than the Chief Hustler. 

I hustle to attract team members, capital, advisors, etc.  I also hustle to ensure that we’re moving along quickly enough to be ahead of the market, though resource constraints and ambiguous choices always want to slow us down. 

The ability to attract resources (team, capital, etc.) is probably the most important job that I have – most people who write about the startup CEOs job mention the visionary, cultural or managerial aspects of the job.  For me it’s the constant hustling.

My hustle starts as soon as I wake up in the morning – pick up my iPhone and start reading and replying to emails at around 04:30.  Then I move on to reading articles from news sources, keeping an ever vigilant eye out for potential competitors (especially ones with abundant funding or interesting technologies).  There is an element of a negative flutter in the stomach whenever I come up on one of these – how will they affect the market, will they try to poach my carefully developed team, what is their technology basis, how do I find out more about them…

As a hustler, I’m basically a sales person. 

I’m selling investors, potential team members and anyone who wants to listen or who can potentially affect the development of what we’re building in a positive manner.  And as a hustler, there has to be a little of the “confidence man” in me – providing security where none can be had.  Making people believe that the impossible is possible, not because I’m trying to cheat someone out of hard earned cash or time, but because I truly believe it myself, and with their help it will come closer to being reality.  Hustling to create something out of nothing.

This hustler is very grateful for the people he’s getting the pleasure to work with to create something that is slated to be industry changing.  I just got a sneak peak of the UI/UX and I’m really happy with the initial cut.  Of course, it will have to be completely redone after our beta trials, but it’s so revolutionary that I’m now getting positive flutters in my belly – the kind of excitement that makes me want to shout from the roof-tops, “We’re coming!” 

But I have to temper my excitement – we still have a long way to go.  Months of hard work with the team, more delays and disappointments, and more insecurity about whether we’ll succeed or not.  Every day, however, is a joy because of the people I have around me; my woman, my friends, my family, my team.   To say “my” doesn’t clearly denote how I feel – not ownership, but privilege in being able to be part of their lives and have them in mine.

This is the essence of entrepreneurship at its best – good people, good goals, good development and good prospects.  It’s a pity that it isn’t always like this.  It does, however, make me appreciate the good times when they are here.

Thank you all.

Hello Flo: Hilarious = Sales (Second Edition)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Every so often I see an ad campaign that I find truly impressive; when I do I like to share them with you.

One of the best was the initial ad for a very old product, tampons, sold in a brand new way, subscription, and perfectly focused on new (in every sense) customers.

Even the product name, Hello Flo, evokes laughter.

The first ad was hilarious and the follow up is even better.

I have others worth sharing and will do so on and off on future Wednesdays.

Image credit: Hello Flo

Ducks in a Row: the Case Against Surveillance

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/laurlaurphotog/13301008834

There are two types of managers, those who believe that productivity improves through constant oversight and those who don’t.

And for those who do there is an abundance of new technology that fosters increased worker surveillance.

Until now it’s been more of a philosophical argument, but new research is working to quantify it and so far it seems that less is more.

Trusting workers to help each other, be creative, solve problems and find better ways of doing things has typically been the province of knowledge workers.

But Ethan S. Bernstein, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, did his initial research with workers at a giant factory in China and the results were surprising.

The small amount of privacy the experiment created yielded a 10-15% percent productivity hike against other workers in the same factory.

“Creating zones of privacy may, under certain conditions, increase performance.” The right degree of privacy, he added, can foster “productive deviance, localized experimentation, distraction avoidance and continuous improvement.”

Bernstein’s research will only get more interesting and relevant to higher-level employees.

Since the factory project, Mr. Bernstein has conducted research studying the privacy-transparency trade-off in other settings, including biotechnology labs and service businesses. That research is not yet published, but Mr. Bernstein said the results so far point to “larger effects” than in manufacturing.

This isn’t rocket science to good managers, but it’s always nice to have your methods validated by Harvard research.

What it boils down to is that you should give your people all the information, authority and support necessary to do their job well and then get the hell out of the way and let them do it—often more efficiently and with better results than expected.

Flickr image credit: laurawashere95

Workforce USA

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Were you shocked when you learned that the US didn’t make the top ten in healthcare, based on criteria of quality, access, efficiency, equity and healthy lives?

It’s fairly well accepted that the U.S. is the most expensive healthcare system in the world, but many continue to falsely assume that we pay more for healthcare because we get better health (or better health outcomes).

The top ten in order are United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Germany & Netherlands (tied), New Zealand & Norway (tied), France and Canada.

The US has long been the subject of global envy for the financial strength of our middle class, but no more.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

What does this mean for those who graduated into the 2008 financial meltdown, one in five of whom have moved back with their parents?

And while much of the discussion about economic inequality has centered on the top 1 percent, it’s the gap between the top 20 percent and the rest that’s more salient to young people. (…) This uncomfortable fact, which many economists have recently accepted, suggests that we are living not simply in an unequal society but rather in two separate, side-by-side economies.

But cheer up; you only have to be in the 95th percentile, not the 1%, to be back among the envied.

How can that be? What about all the jobs created by companies such as Google and Facebook?

It’s easy to understand if you consider what the fastest growing jobs in the US are.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

As to American inventiveness and the much ballyhooed entrepreneurial spirit so richly displayed by a few Millennials, consider which actually is the most innovative country in the world.

Germany does a better job on innovation in areas as diverse as sustainable energy systems, molecular biotech, lasers, and experimental software engineering. (…)  But the fairy tale that the U.S. is better at radical innovation than other countries has been shown in repeated studies to be untrue. Germany is just as good as the U.S. in the most radical technologies.

What’s more important, Germany is better at adapting inventions to industry and spreading them throughout the business sector. Much German innovation involves infusing old products and processes with new ideas and capabilities or recombining elements of old, stagnant sectors into new, vibrant ones.

Perhaps it’s time for us—business leaders, religious leaders, politicians of all flavors and just plain folks—to take our collective heads out of the sand and do what it takes to turn things around.

Image credit: BLS

If the Shoe Fits: What Number are You?

Friday, June 20th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_m“Vic” is the go-between and coach for an organization that arranges for entrepreneurs to pitch panels of investors in an ongoing program.

The investors provide feedback on the product, pitch, etc., and may end up funding it.

When entrepreneurs apply Vic sends them a questionnaire and set of pitching guidelines.

Both were developed by the investors to ensure high quality pitches that contain the information they want and address their basic investing concerns.

Completing the questionnaire makes it simpler to organize and build the pitch, while the guidelines include important Dos and Don’ts.

Vic then works with the entrepreneur to refine and polish the pitch, which results in better and higher-level feedback from the investors.

I thought it sounded like a great program for founders looking for early investment and asked how it was received.

Vic’s response was about what I expected.

There are eight points in the questionnaire. Of the ten accepted applicants, only a couple will return the forms and even their response are the result of being asked two or three times. Moreover, those who do respond only cover two or three of the eight questions.

I asked Vic how creditable the pitches were and what was the investor reaction.

Most of the pitches are missing crucial information, which annoys the panel and makes their feedback more abrasive, because they feel their time is being wasted. The constructive part is much more basic and often covers verbally the same information that was in the questionnaire and guidelines.

I asked how the entrepreneurs reacted to that.

They aren’t happy and often blame me for not coaching them on the what and how of the presentation. One guy, who didn’t return any of the prelim work, even said, “Why didn’t you help me the way you were supposed to?”

Now the question you need to answer is if this guy is a ten (on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst) what number are you?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Are Investors Watering Down Innovation?

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/3514537597/Innovation isn’t nearly as mind-boggling today when compared to what startups were doing in the late Seventies/early Eighties when I started working with them.

That’s not surprising when you consider who gets funded these days.

A recent Reuters report found that the majority of Silicon Valley startup founders that receive Series A funding come from the same pedigreed cohort: either they previously worked at a large, well-known tech firm, a well-connected smaller tech company, they previously created a successful startup, or they come from one of three universities—Stanford, Harvard, or MIT.

Not surprising when you consider the attitude of Valley stalwarts like Paul Graham of Y Combinator, who publically stated that he would be unlikely to fund someone with a strong accent or a woman.

It’s been 15 years since I first wrote about the proclivity of managers to hire people like themselves and more over the years showing it leads to homophily and the negative impact that has on a company.

It seems it’s no different for investors.

They are funding people like themselves who were raised, educated and worked along paths similar to their own who they either know or are introduced to them by a friend.

“Like a lot of the investments [Instacart] that have come our way, a friend of a friend talked to us about it, and told us about it, and encouraged the founder and the CEO to come and chat with us. One thing led to another.” –Sequoia partner Mike Moritz

When you fund from a homogenous group, no matter where they are, creativity and innovation are watered down, because those groups tend to be insular and badly interbred talking mostly to each other.

If you’re fishing from a pond of rich white guys, you’re only going to get ideas that address the needs of rich white guys.

AKA, people like themselves.

Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

Do Honor Codes Work?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tostie14/34110178I expect stupid from teens; it’s not really their fault, since brain science has proved that teen brains are in a process of change and during that time the frontal cortex isn’t functioning.

The frontal cortex is where ethical judgments are made, along with connecting cause and effect.

Middlebury College has always run on an honor code, as do many colleges and universities, but it is giving in.

“So the whole idea of an honor code is very honorable, quite evidently. But there’s an issue of it being actually implemented. I think there are a lot of reasons, both internal and external to Middlebury, why it’s problematic to assume that such an honor code has a degree of credibility.” –Ronald Liebowitz, Middlebury’s president

Jessica Cheung, a junior at Middlebury College who wrote this essay, sees what’s happening and isn’t happy.

“Ethical judgment, it seems, has been supplanted by our need to succeed. (…) The honor code is a model of a world I wish to live in: one of honesty, personal responsibility, learning for the right reason, choosing right in a moment of temptation. These are the very deepest and most literal things we ask a school to teach us. If all this dies, what else can survive?

Just as critical, those who aren’t cheating are loathe to report cheating when they see it.

And it isn’t just Middlebury; the problem is rampant in colleges and universities across the country, including the most elite, like Stanford and Princeton.

Granted, brain maturity doesn’t happen overnight; research says that the brain continues maturing into the twenties, but based today’s ethical attitudes and watching AFV brain maturity is occurring well into people’s forties and fifties—if at all.

The stupid and unethical things, such as cheating, that we do as children and continue to do as teens and young adults don’t suddenly stop when we hit adulthood nor do the factors that motivated their doing—competition, the desire to succeed and peer pressure.

Food for thought as we enter another election year full of lies and cheats—on all sides of the table.

Flickr image credit: Kevin Tostado

Ducks in a Row: Success Requires Everyone

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/monikahw/14074546688

You can learn a lot from the Chrysler turnaround and here’s one of the most important points.

Fixing the product isn’t enough.

Developing recruiting and retention of knowledge workers isn’t enough.

Fixing basic problems that affect lower-level workers is imperative.

It took five years, starting in 2009 and when Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne finally owned Chrysler (free registration required) the situation in the manufacturing areas was worse than expected.

Marchionne is a smart guy; he knew that no matter how many billions were spent on design and other high-level needs Chrysler wouldn’t turn around without the full support of the blue-collar workforce.

Marchionne said the company also made sure to spend money on the parts of the plant that touched employees more personally — bathrooms, lunchrooms, parking lots and reception areas. Why?

“The state of disrepair, of neglect of the work environment that these people were offered to make a high-quality product that was supposed to compete internationally with the best of the best, right?” You can’t do that when you can’t walk into the bathroom at one of the plants because they’re just not presentable.” Along with retooling and good leadership decisions, he said, the success of Chrysler “was due to the unwavering commitment of a group of people who make up the blue-collar force of Chrysler.”

A lot of people believe that union employees don’t care. Therefore, because it’s hard to get rid of them it doesn’t matter how you treat them.

And it’s not just in unionized areas.

Wall Street is famous for treating its pink-collar and back room employees, including IT, poorly.

Tech companies do everything for so-called stars, while treating the rest as replaceable ciphers.

The bottom line is that bosses who treat any part of their team as replaceable is, at best, short-sighted and, at worst, plain stupid.
Flickr image credit: Monikah Wiseman

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