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Archive for April, 2015

Entrepreneurs: Basic Choice

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/126369362@N04/14693029044Fact: culture stems from manager MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).

Fact: there are two basic, unconscious attitudes that underlie MAP.

  • “TaIk to me, I don’t know everything;” or
  • “Shut up and do what I say; my vision, my way.”

Know which you are — brutally honest inside your head.

If you are the first then it should be a critical factor when hiring (easy to confirm when checking references).

If the second applies be prepared for higher attrition.

It’s your choice.

Image credit: Grace Keogh

The Destruction of Community

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

My friend Emily lives in Mountain View, CA.

In spite of all the stories about high rents and corporate bussing not much has been said about companies such as Prometheus Real Estate Group and its ilk that are responsible for much of the actual destruction of community in the name of progress and greed.

They do it by buying up properties, telling the tenants to move, and then doubling (or more) the rents.

Like other Peninsula landlords, Prometheus sets a baseline criteria for tenants to prove they earn more than three times the monthly rent. With that requirement, a household would have to earn more than $144,000 annually to be eligible to rent a $4,000-per-month unit, Scarboro pointed out.

Emily recently sent a letter to the City Council, which resulted in the story linked to above and a report on NBC Bay Area.

And here’s the letter that started it all (edited for length and clarity).

I have been a resident of Mountain View since 1999. Since I earn fewer than six figures I am a low – middle income professional by this City’s standards (and the word in the street is that the voice of folks like me carries little weight).

I am writing anyway because today I realized that if I am not for myself – who will be for me? Certainly not my current hometown.

I live on a private street with 24 town homes and most of us are low to middle income (by Silicon Valley standards). We are teachers, social workers, healthcare professionals, doctors (residents), beauticians, and more. We have patients, clients, customers and businesses in town. We are in our 30-70’s. Some of us have young children. Some are single Mom’s or just plain single. Several younger residents have disabilities. We are a diverse group by skin color, religion, culture, age and education representing what’s great about this City (or what used to be). Many of us were born here or have lived in Mountain View over 30 years. Some have lived on this street for 12 years or more. Our rents are not cheap. They range from $2500-3500 per month for our 1970’s style 2-3 bedrooms. We all pay our bills. Most of us love coming home and we have become a closely-knit community—which is increasingly rare in this town.

As you must already know, Prometheus Property Management’s latest takeover team has informed the 100+ residents on Forest Glen Street and at “Granada”, a nearby parcel with 14 townhomes (purchased at the same time) that we all need to pack up and “permanently evacuate” due to the new renovations allowing them to collect “considerable rent increases” “Feel free to apply as a new tenant but your rent must be no more than 30 percent of your monthly income or three times the new rental price.

That’s requires a salary of $12,000 per month or more at their rental prices.

I used to love Mountain View. Not anymore.

What kind of a City sanctions new owners to displace over 100 residents and literally destroy a diverse neighborhood where everyone pulls their weight and contributes to their City in so many ways? You may consider the 3-6 months notice we were given to be a generous offer (they are not starting to renovate until mid summer) but how truly generous is this when it’s a known fact that there is limited decent housing and whatever housing exists has monthly income requirements that non-tech folks cannot meet? (According to the article, even many Googlers don’t earn that. –Miki)

Since the initial shock of forced displacement many of us have spent days looking at comparable sized apartments in Mountain View (and immediate surrounding areas) only to discover that Prometheus is not alone with their outrageous monthly income requirements at 3x the rent. We have found that most property management companies and individual landlords have the same requirements.

Being the great company they are, however, the Prometheus takeover team urged some of us to apply for apartments that are Below Market Rate (BMR). Funny thing is, “there is no BMR housing in Mountain View and the list has been closed since December” according to the office that manages it.

This is the new Mountain View at its best demonstrating how to ineffectively follow its own guidelines. Preserving and enhancing quality of life for Mountain View residents is only for those with very low income or the top 10%.

A BALANCED City would require a new owner to increase rents and renovate for NEW tenants when current tenants move out. People are moving in and out all the time. There is no rent control. No one is going to stick around forever. Some just want their children to finish their HS senior year with the kids they grew up with.

A FAIR City would have policies in place that keep companies like Prometheus from disenfranchising long time residents who at the very least work in this city. Most of us would happily exist with a rent increase even with our old grouty tiles, stained Formica and fake marble counters and sinks just to be able to continue to more easily drive to work, keep our doctors and run our businesses.

Tell me — how can this once great City of Mountain View look the other way and through sanctioning Prometheus’s business practices- force people with disabilities, in their 60’s or with kids in school to abandon their homes and neighborhood suffering, in some cases, irreparable financial loss and emotional distress. This can’t be legal.

[signed] Emily White Mountain View, CA

New York City and surrounding boroughs instituted rent control decades ago and the city is anything but destroyed; municipals governments work closely with housing organizations to make it work.

Of course, in a country where greed is enshrined in our culture, corruption is legalized in the form of lobbyists and the Supreme Court voted to put for sale signs on our elections, Prometheus’ actions are completely legal — and even applauded in certain circles.

Ducks in a Row: Attracting Women to STEM? Simple

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kurt-b/4436722759

Considering all the hand-wringing and diverse efforts to attract women to tech, it turns out that it’s relatively simple.

Lina Nilsson is a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and director of innovation at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, noticed a quaint factoid.

…if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves. That applies not only to computer engineering but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical and chemical engineering.

This held true at dozens of universities, such as D-Lab at MIT, Arizona State University, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University and Santa Clara University.

And it’s important to recognize that the primary, or even secondary, intent was not to attract women, but to solve problems.

None of the programs, clubs and classes were designed with the main goal of appealing to female engineers, and perhaps this is exactly why they are drawing us in. At the core of each of the programs is a focus on engineering that is cutting edge, with an explicit social context and mission.

The problem, of course, is that most existing companies and current startups are focused on money, while “women seem to be drawn to engineering projects that attempt to achieve societal good.”

Higher purpose vs. greed says it all. 

Image credit: Kurt Bauschardt

Change Who?

Monday, April 27th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/newtown_grafitti/8889686201

Having trouble getting people to do things differently or do something new?

According to Henry Thoreau, “Things don’t change, people do.”

Over the years, I’ve watched managers and companies try to change the outcome without changing the input.

They’ve talked/explained/begged/pleaded/threatened, but nothing changes.

They are suffering from Einstein’s version of insanity.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If change is the goal, it’s best to start with yourself.

To change what they do, change how you think.”

You need to change because the way you think, what you think, how you think, and what you believe — in other words your MAP — dictates the authenticity of what you do and the responses you get.

No matter what great ideas you read, hear or talk, no matter what great leader you try and channel, you will always walk your own MAP.

Image credit: Newtown graffiti

If the Shoe Fits: Funding is No Guarantee

Friday, April 24th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhether your goal is to be a horse or a unicorn, raising round after round of funding for a higher and higher valuation may do nothing more than give you a false sense of success and security.

Y Combinator’s Sam Altman summed it up in an article focused on the $1M-plus burn rate that is getting more and more common.

…it’s never good to be at the mercy of investors.

If you’re a founder, you shouldn’t want that,” he says. “If a company is profitable, the founder is in control. If it’s not, investors are in control.”

One tip he often offers Y Combinator founders: Treat every round of financing like it’s your last.

There’s a reason that popular wisdom, the kind that comes from experience claims that companies that start in moderate-to-cool and even bust economies fare better in the long-term.
As do hundreds of startups that aren’t on the receiving end of current largesse because their founders aren’t connected.

Bootstrapping or working with minimal funding forces founders, especially young ones to

  • be savvy money managers;
  • put financial controls in place;
  • focus on productivity (not perks);
  • monitor and constantly reduce customer acquisition cost (CAC); and
  • become profitable or, at the least, breakeven as quickly as possible.

The founders who will be best positioned when the startup eco-system cools, as it always does, and funding is restricted are those who master the first four points and whose companies have embraced the fifth.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: It’s Never Either / Or

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andymorffew/8048112195

The other day I was asked, “When do you lead rationally vs. when do you lead emotionally?”

“Rationally” refers to communicating and appealing to those who are more cerebral, while “emotionally” means focusing more on feelings — it does not mean that one type is cold and the other overwrought.

People hear in different ways and it’s the responsibility of the speaker to communicate so that all can hear.

Over the years, I’ve been told many times by people in positional leadership roles that having to constantly alter how they present information is hard work and they believe that it’s up to the listener to understand what they’re saying.

What these bosses don’t understand is that if “they” can’t hear you “they” certainly won’t follow.

It’s not just a choice of rational vs. emotional, it’s understanding your audience and then speaking appropriately.

For instance, if you’re presenting plans for a new building to investors, business, the community and the media you might be inclined to concentrate on relative costs and ROI, since you want to win over the money crowd, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the esthetics and ambiance.

First, you need to think about the different viewpoints and craft your presentation to include both types of information, even when it’s stuff about which you don’t care, that way you have it all at your fingertips.

During the presentation a money person suggests that construction costs could be lower by using smaller windows and lower ceilings and you know that this won’t fly with the community and business interests, since they’re concerned more with how the building will look and feel.

If you’ve done your homework, then you can show that higher ceilings and larger windows have been proven to increase worker productivity and the improved ambiance means higher rents.

Each group will focus on the information addressing their primary interest with the rest being relegated to backup position, but the important thing is that each heard something positive that directly addressed their concern.

Doing this is a habit you can cultivate and the fastest way to do so is to make yourself hyper aware of that to which your reaction is “who cares,” since that’s the information/viewpoint you’re most likely to skip.

While it’s not rocket science, it does require self-awareness supported by a driving passion to be heard.

While there’s never a guarantee that people will agree and follow, they will hear you and that’s where you need to start.

Image credit: Andy Morffew

What Value Liberal Arts?

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomastern/15102671073

I constantly read/hear that if you want your kids to have a good life focus on a purely STEM curriculum and they’ll be home free.

Moreover, if they are great at coding they don’t even need college.

While it may be true, at least at this point in time, that they can get a good job if they have strong coding skills, what they are unlikely to get is a promotion that takes them beyond coding, whether in a technical or leadership/management role.

Pulitzer Prize winner (twice) Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, with 1.4 million followers on Twitter, 1.3 million followers on Google+ and 600,000 followers on Facebook (click ‘more’ to see his bio) sums up the value of a humanities, AKA, liberal arts, degree 1, 2, 3.

First, liberal arts equip students with communications and interpersonal skills that are valuable and genuinely rewarded in the labor force, especially when accompanied by technical abilities.

My second reason: We need people conversant with the humanities to help reach wise public policy decisions, even about the sciences.

Third, wherever our careers lie, much of our happiness depends upon our interactions with those around us, and there’s some evidence that literature nurtures a richer emotional intelligence.

Even the most rabid coders don’t want to do it for 40 years.

But if your knowledge of society is limited to code and your ability to interact with others is negligible, then you are left with little choice.

Even a degree in STEM or business won’t give you the broad outlook or emotional intelligence it takes to be promoted, let alone start a successful company.

The best way to assure yourself a bright future, whether you decide to code or earn a “useful” degree, is to patronize your library as so many “self-made” folks did/do

Stay away from your area of expertise, instead wander sections of which you have no knowledge, select books randomly and read at every opportunity.

Image credit: Susanne Nilsson

Ducks in a Row: You Can’t (Successfully) Have One Without the Other

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/acrylicartist/5857962888

To build a solid culture that will stay true to its values, yet flexible enough to grow with the company you need get past the idea that positional leaders don’t need management skills or that managers don’t lead.

Jim Stroup, who wrote a blog called Managing Leadership, the archives of which contain tremendously useful information on leadership and management for bosses at all levels, used to point out in numerous posts the absurdity of separating the two.

“No one has proven that leadership is different from management, much less that it is a characteristic inherent in individuals independently of the context in which those individuals operate, one that they carry with them from one organization to another and which they then instill into groups otherwise bereft of it.”

A comment left on a 2008 Washington Post column by Steve Pearlstein regarding the leadership failure that led to the economic crisis neatly sums up the problem with defining leaders based on their vision and skill at influencing people to follow them.

“What a great summary of the economic problem. However this was not a lack of leadership. Defining leadership as influencing people to move in a specific direction, the financial and economic elite successfully led the country into the economic disaster. The problem was a lack of management that failed to identify the signs of the pending disaster.”

Honing the skills to only do one or the other well short-changes your people and your company — but it’s how you win.

Being proficient in both leading and managing will

  • prevent visions from blindsiding you;
  • provide strong motivation;
  • increase productivity and creative thinking;
  • create an environment in which people are challenged and grow to their true potential;
  • ensure a higher level of personal satisfaction; and
  • increase your tangible rewards.

And if those 6 results don’t motivate you, the sophistication and mobility of today’s workforce certainly should.

Image credit: Rodney Campbell

Internal Leadership

Monday, April 20th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/101181388@N07/14876534990

Do you equate leadership to influence?

Does being labeled an “influencer” by LinkedIn or other social media make you a leader?

Not really.

True leadership is internal.

It’s a function of your MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).  

It starts by knowing both yourself and your MAP.

Knowing yourself refers to knowing what you’ve done.

Knowing your MAP means knowing why you did it.

Knowing both allows you to accurately evaluate where you are and where you’re going.

That knowledge is the rudder with which you can chart and achieve any course you choose.

Image credit: Jevgenijs Slihto

If the Shoe Fits: Physical Advantage

Friday, April 17th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDo you use technology to solve problems? Enhance creativity and drive innovation? Develop your team and build your people?

Years ago I wrote Fools, Tools, and Management Cool about how technology doesn’t take the place of good management.

I’ve written about the advantages of silence and the importance of unwiring and how to be Luftmenschen (people who deal in the non-tangible: ideas, thoughts, dreams).

When it comes to technology, you may want to rethink the approach.

A growing body of neuroscience research has begun to reveal the exact ways in which information age technologies cut against the natural grain of the human mind. Our understanding of all kinds of information is shaped by our physical interaction with that information. Move from paper to screen, and your brain loses valuable “topographical” markers for memory and insight.

Although screens have their strengths in presenting information — they are, for example, good at encouraging browsing — they are lousy at helping us absorb, process, and retain information from a focused source. And good old handwriting, though far slower for most of us than typing, better deepens conceptual understanding versus taking notes on a computer — even when the computer user works without any internet or social media distractions.

In short, when you want to improve how well you remember, understand, and make sense of crucial information about your organization, sometimes it’s best to put down the tablet and pick up a pencil.

The work described was done by the Drucker Institute and is easy to try with your people.

The great news if you want to try unplugging is that the basic techniques are simple and free. Here’s an Un/Workshop-style exercise you can try on your own time, with your own team, in just a half-hour: Including yourself, get six or more of your colleagues together. Divide yourselves into two or more small groups. Give each group one piece of paper with a single question printed on it: Who is our customer?

Depending how young your team is you may incur some minor costs — like the need to shop for paper and pencils and possibly explain how to use them.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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