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Archive for July, 2014

Entrepreneurs: Think It Through

Thursday, July 31st, 2014


Bill Gates is considered a pretty smart guy and his Foundation has provided funding to find solutions to global problems.


The results haven’t always been stellar, let alone affordable.

And it seems as if they’ve done it again.

After seeing an invention at the MIT Lab, Gates asked if it could be modified to use for birth control.

The Gates Foundation has pumped $4.6 million into a startup called MicroCHIPS, which has developed an implant that is capable of delivering steady, regular doses of hormones to control fertility for up to 16 years. When a woman is ready to start a family, her doctor simply disables the implant remotely, and then restarts it when she wants to prevent additional pregnancies.

This could be a Harvard case study of what happens when an idea is funded without thinking through the possible hitches, glitches and repercussions.

In short, contraception is both a religiously and politically charged concept and everything is hackable. (Read the article for the details.)

The thing for entrepreneurs to remember is that what sounds great late at night after a few beers, among a group of like-minded folks whose excitement and enthusiasm feeds off each other or like a flash of genius or an epiphany may not stand up to cold logic and due diligence—not to mention possible ethical implications.

Even if your name is Bill Gates.

Flickr image credit: Nam-ho Park hack

What do Bosses and Workers have in Common?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/evilpeach/2928224076These days, the executive position most fraught with the danger of Internet blood-letting, not to mention being fired, is that of CISO (chief information security officer) as this joke making the rounds confirms.

A new security officer who meets his predecessor, who hands him three numbered envelopes and tells him to open them in an emergency. After a breach, the new security officer opens the first envelope. The message reads, Blame your predecessor. After a second breach, he opens the second, which suggests, Blame your staff. After a third breach, the security officer opens the third envelope. The message reads, Prepare three envelopes

Although the joke can be fatuous or ironic depending on your situation, the advice isn’t new; it’s what bosses have been doing for centuries.

Not just bosses, but workers, too.

It’s called not taking responsibility—blame others and when that doesn’t work leave for a different venue and do it again.

In short, bad bosses/workers blame others.

Good bosses/workers take responsibility and change/fix their actions.

Which are you?

Flickr image credit: Ilovebeingmema

Ducks in a Row: Gossip as Sexual Harassment

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014


As the women on Whisper say, and American Apparel’s Dov Charney proves, sexual harassment is alive and flourishing.

I mention that in case you are from off-planet.

But sexual harassment comes in another package; one that’s strictly hands-off.

It’s called gossip.

Because gossip usually revolves around looks, shape, weight and body characteristics, along with who someone is seeing and what they are doing.

Discussion of any of these subjects in the workplace will create a hostile environment.

Hostile environments lower worker focus, engagement and productivity.

Which many bosses don’t seem too concerned about, since they are often active/passive gossip participants.

They would care more if they had the ability to understand cause and effect, which seems to be a disappearing brain function (but that’s another post).

So in the name of better workplaces I’ll spell it out in easily understandable terms.

Gossip contributes to hostile, as well as just plain crappy, work environments.

Bosses who participate, facilitate or benignly neglect gossip will see the effect in employee turnover.

They will feel the effect in their own lowered compensation.

And they definitely deserve both.

Flickr image credit: John Haslam 

A Case for Lawyers

Monday, July 28th, 2014

cchmc_logoI doubt that a week goes by that I don’t think of the line from one of Shakespeare’s least memorable characters, Dick the butcher in Henry VI (Part 2).

It was Dick who said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

While this rarely happens, it’s nice to see when legal greed gets its comeuppance as it did recently when a patent troll not only lost their case, but the judge shifted the cost to the plaintiff.

Lawyers can do a lot of good, too, especially when used creatively, the way Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center does.

In 2008, the hospital and the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati set up a medical-legal partnership, the Cincinnati Child Health-Law Partnership or Child HeLP.

In 2008 the hospital identified NY Group, a landlord that owned 18 buildings and consistently refused to fix issues that were health problems.

That’s where the lawyers come in because penny-pinching landlords don’t listen to “do-gooders” like social workers.

Child HeLP lawyers went after NY Group, even suing on behalf of one disabled child, forcing the repairs to be done quickly.

But their efforts didn’t stop there.

At the same time, NY Group was walking away from the buildings — Fannie Mae foreclosed on all 19 by the end of July. Legal Aid helped tenants to organize and have a voice in the foreclosure process — among other things, they wanted to make sure that the buildings remain subsidized housing.

Ultimately that pressure resulted in widespread repairs, and helped persuade Fannie Mae to sell the buildings to Community Builders, a Boston-based nonprofit that develops and operates good low-income housing (which is maintaining the subsidies). Reconstruction is about to start.

And because the approach works so well it is spreading across the country.

Perhaps it’s time to modify Shakespeare’s words to “First, let’s kill most of the lawyers.”

Hat tip to KG Charles-Harris for alerting me to the troll story.

Image credit: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

If the Shoe Fits: Let Carl Sagan Help Guide Your Culture

Friday, July 25th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhen you talk abut cultural guideposts to engineers they often hold their collective noses and chant “fuzzy, fuzzy.”

Given that they prefer algorithms to concepts, providing direction from a source they respect may be acceptable in lieu of hard data.

Enter Carl Sagan, whose credentials are as solid as they come, and his The Rules of the Game.

To be useful, culture needs to embody a company’s values, in order provide guidance to ethical and moral questions, as well as human interactions.

Not only do Sagan’s Rules address all three, but the short essay in which he explains them is written with the same care ad skill he lavished on his books and work.


The Golden Rule Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The Silver Rule Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.
The Brazen Rule Do unto others as they do unto you.
The Iron Rule Do unto others as you like, before they do it unto you.
The Tit-for-Tat Rule Cooperate with others first, then do unto them as they do unto you.

Introduce the rules by sharing the essay with your people.

If you run into resistance, overcome it by pointing out that Robert Axelrod, whose undergraduate degree is mathematics, evaluated the Rules positively in the light of the prisoner’s dilemma (game theory).

Typically, the Tit-for-Tat Rule garners the highest rating, because it makes so much sense.

And the Silver Rule provides terrific guidance to both new and experienced managers.

Thank you (again) Carl Sagan.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: the Enigma of Emotion

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

kg_charles-harrisIt’s incredible how much emotion can completely boost or derail absolutely everything at work and in life.  It completely changes the color and tenor of any discussion or experience, though actual reality remains unchanged. In fact, I’m coming to believe that almost everything is emotionally driven in human experience – history, sociology, culture, psychology, biology, health, etc. 

Emotion is that elusive, inexplicable thing that gives or takes away will and energy, determines perception and choice and, to a large extent, outcomes in life. Yet we know almost nothing about it—or at least I don’t. I know how it feels and what it does, but not where it comes from, what causes it and, most importantly, how to optimize it.  

I do know that hormones and whether I am rested, hungry, etc., influence my emotions. However, I am reflecting on how easily I see exactly the same thing as positive or negative depending on how I feel. How strongly emotions determine my ability to deal well or badly with large, or even the smallest, matters.

Building a company is about creating an emotional drive in a group of people to accomplish something together. I’ve noticed that whenever I’m convincing people to join or am working out problems it is not just a conversation or intellectual work, but a significant outlay of emotional energy.

It’s as if my emotions are a vibration at a certain frequency that has the ability to cause vibration in others as well, as if emotions are sound or music. If we take a comparison to physics:

“If you were to take a guitar string and stretch it to a given length and a given tightness and have a friend pluck it, you would hear a noise; but the noise would not even be close in comparison to the loudness produced by an acoustic guitar. On the other hand, if the string is attached to the sound box of the guitar, the vibrating string is capable of forcing the sound box into vibrating at that same natural frequency. The sound box in turn forces air particles inside the box into vibrational motion at the same natural frequency as the string. The entire system (string, guitar, and enclosed air) begins vibrating and forces surrounding air particles into vibrational motion.

The tendency of one object to force another adjoining or interconnected object into vibrational motion is referred to as a forced vibration. In the case of the guitar string mounted to the sound box, the fact that the surface area of the sound box is greater than the surface area of the string means that more surrounding air particles will be forced into vibration. This causes an increase in the amplitude and thus loudness of the sound.”

This is exactly how you build an organization—as the entrepreneur and founder, it starts with my emotional vibration and transferring that emotional vibration to other competent people who can help me build my vision. And a large part of doing that is to accept that this vision is no longer mine, but that it’s now the vision of the people to whom I transferred the emotional vibration. 

That means, building an organization is like creating the sound box in the above example—it amplifies the effect of the emotional drive towards goals.

I recently spoke with my father about the fact that everything in my life and the world seemingly being emotion-based; that emotion is what provides us with the energy to have a vision within ourselves and the force to transfer it to others while maintaining it within.  

He said that the transference happens in a variety of ways—facial expression, gestures, word choice, etc.—and that the mix of these and other tools can enhance or detract from the vibration.  

In other words, we need to actively think about emotional transference and the tools we can use to promote it. What can we learn from the physics of vibration?

Beyond physics there’s biology. If I know that I am deeply affected in my emotional states and my dealings with people by hormones (such as oxytocin) and pheromones, as well as rest, nutrition and other factors, then to what extent I can control this? Clearly it is necessary to maintain good physical condition, which includes rest, exercise and proper nutrition. My father believes we can determine the hormone levels in our bodies by thought and training; perhaps this is what the practice of Buddhist mediation is all about—the end to suffering through changing our perception of reality.  

Ultimately our emotions determine our perception of reality, so a slight change in chemical balance will enable us to achieve great things or completely derail what we’re attempting to accomplish.  

Some try to use chemistry (pharmaceuticals & drugs) to optimize this, but unfortunately the tools and substances used by psychologists and psychiatrists are woefully crude and we are just in the beginning phases of understanding how this can function.

Emotion is a central aspect of elite athleticism. We obviously can optimize like athletes, so why don’t we? They start by influencing the natural factors that they actually can control, i.e. nutrition, rest, positive environment and focused exercise. 

Shouldn’t optimizing our biology be just as primary a task for entrepreneurs as it is for athletes in order to enhance our ability to execute?  

Why are so many of us neglecting to utilize this tool to help us achieve our goals?

Note: KG Charles-Harris is CEO of Quarrio (former CEO of Emanio). KG’s company was recently awarded SIIA’s (Software & Information Industry Association) NextGen Awards in 2 of 3 categories – “Best Overall” and “Most Disruptive.” Quarrio won from a pool of several hundred applicants. The runner-up was Junyo, co-founded by Steve Schoettler, co-founder of Zynga, and funded by Mitch Kapor, Learn Capital and others.

What Words on My Tombstone?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

What do you think about when you take stock of your life? What do you strive for? What makes you feel successful?

But first…

What I’m about to write is NOT a judgment call—having been brought up in a judgmental family I don’t judge. Sure, I have opinions, we all do, but I don’t judge. The most I can say is “X doesn’t work for me, but Y does.”

Granted, I might recommend Y; I might even argue passionately regarding the merits of Y, but in the end it’s your decision and you need to tweak/modify/change Y to fit your MAPif you decide you have any interest in it at all—because Y is a product of my MAP and no two MAPs are identical.

Back to taking stock.

Someone once said to me,

“I still have more than half my life left to live… Still, with each birthday I feel the anxiety of wondering if I am living up to my potential. … Often, I can’t wake up from my daydreams of a disciplined and directed life long enough to make that life happen. … I have learned from experience that I need both [self awareness and willingness to change] if I want to be successful in life and leadership.”

I found it sad because the focus seemed to be so personally judgmental and the person set such store on an intangible like ‘leadership’—which, to have any real meaning, needs to be bestowed and substantiated by others.

But that is just me.

I’m substantially older than most of you and have bounced and blundered through life opening doors as the mood moved me.

I’ve made and lost money as well as friends as our lives diverged.

I once read that success is found in what you do for others, but I believe it’s also in what you don’t do and based on both I am enormously successful.

I’ve given a helping hand to hundreds, thus facilitating their ultimate success.

More importantly, I work hard at not hurting anyone by word or deed, advertently or inadvertently.

I doubt that I’m always successful, but I do try like hell.

I do not lie, cheat or steal.

If I were to have a tombstone (which I won’t, since I’m being cremated and scattered) it would look like this.  


Image credit: JJ Chandler

Ducks in a Row: the Whisper Ethos

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014


I’m starting to appreciate the ethos of Whisper co-founder/CEO Michael Heyward a lot more these days.

What changed my attitude were his comments at the Fortune Brainstorm conference regarding threats, whether violent or suicidal, child abuse/porn and hurtful responses.

“You can’t use the service to hurt other people” (…) The company searches for words and terms that indicate threats, crimes or suicide. And it has human moderators that will pull down abusive, inappropriate material and take further action if it seems necessary. (…) “You’re talking about actual people’s lives. We take that very seriously.”

Unlike Mark Zukerberg at Facebook.

Perhaps Heyward can also find a way to help the women who post about the sexual harassment they endure in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Whisper started with lots of celebrity rumors and still receives thousands of frivolous secrets, but if it stays true to Heyward’s ethics and vision it could play a real role in making the world a little better place to live.

And that is a nice legacy to put on a tombstone.

Join me tomorrow for a look at my personal ethos and what I’d put on my tombstone.

Flickr image credit: Jeffrey

Expensive Distractions

Monday, July 21st, 2014

 2832163100_81db3c85d1_mWould you be surprised to know that interruptions cost business $650 billion dollars a year.

“A typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times… data from 40,000 people who have tracking software on their computers, found that on average the worker also stops at 40 Web sites over the course of the day…”

Would you be more surprised to know that was in 2008?

650 billion dollars in lost productivity.

And that was before smartphones, texting, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, etc., etc. (These days bosses are worse.)

Can you imagine the cost in 2014?

Flickr image credit: underminingme

If the Shoe Fits: Is Airbnb a Good Corporate Role Model?

Friday, July 18th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFrom Napster to Uber and Airbnb, I’ve never been partial to startups whose success was based on cheating, AKA, breaking laws.

And the explanation that the law(s) are outmoded, even if true, doesn’t change my opinion.

Airbnb just introduced a new logo that was jumped on in the Twitterscape for its blatant sexual innuendo.

But that pales in comparison to its apparent theft.

 Airbnb’s new logo is an exact copy of the Automation Anywhere logo, as Jay Yarow pointed out on Twitter


Automation Anywhere started life as Tethys Solutions, LLC in 2003 and rebranded as Automation Anywhere in 2012.

Perhaps Airbnb sees appropriating a logo in the same light as moving into a community and ignoring its laws.

It should be interesting.

And with a client list that includes Cisco, Harley, MasterCard, Coach, Boeing, Oracle, Intel, Virgin and dozens of others, I doubt Automation Anywhere is going to roll over any time soon.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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