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Archive for October, 2016

Golden Oldie: Free, scary costume

Monday, October 31st, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back at more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

I wrote this Halloween post exactly 10 years ago and the costume is even scarier today. The character described has added to their tricks list, including hospitals, connected cars, IoT devices and ransomware, to name just a few.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Happy Halloween! In case you’ve got party plans and want to be a really scary character sans blood and guts.

The costume is almost anything handy, but ratty jeans, well-worn black t-shirt, preferably with an anti-social message, worn sneakers, scruffy hair, and red-rimmed eyes is the norm; or you can go all the way over to pure designer if that’s your thing. The only necessary accessory is a laptop (or facsimile if you think you might party hard enough to lose it). That’s it, the generic (feel free to customize it) costume of one of the scariest folks cruising along today.

Your character plays with water systems, steals from online accounts, rips off Second Lives, messes with elections, and shakes down the online gambling industry.

Figured it out yet?

Good. So, grab your (metaphorical) black hat and let’s party! And may you enjoy an evening of great treats and no tricks.

If the Shoe Fits: Is It Really Failure?

Friday, October 28th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mA post on Medium from Alexis Tryon considers something that many entrepreneurs face, i.e., if your company fails are you a failure, too? She puts it like this.

If Alex = Artsicle
& Artsicle = Failure
then Alex = Failure

I saw this happen decades ago during every downturn and each resulting layoff. It happened to many people at Enron and other corporate debacles.

Not just to founders/executives/managers, but to workers at all levels.

And I spent enough time coaching, encouraging and working with them that I coined a term for it.

I called it ego-merge.

I’ve written about it several times, how to avoid it in 2010, not making your company or position your identity (which is what Alexis did), along with a way to combat it in 2013.

As bad as ego-merge is for “regular” people, it is much worse for entrepreneurs.

That said, they also have a psychological advantage in dealing with it, since if they didn’t have more-than-normal grit to start with they wouldn’t have become entrepreneurs in the first place.

Also, real failure isn’t about getting knocked down.

It’s only real if you don’t get up.

Hat tip to CB Insights for pointing me to Alexis’ post.)

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Tracy Kidder’s A Truck Full of Money

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

a-truck-full-of-money

I read Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer winning Soul of a New Machine, when it came out 30 years ago and still remember it. He is a superb researcher and writer and an excellent storyteller. This is one book I definitely plan to read (it’s on order from my library).

SNM is a story of hardware, namely the computer that emerged from Data General’s skunkworks, and it’s still worth reading; I highly recommend it.

30 years later Kidder wanted to do something similar only focused on software and asked serial entrepreneur and Kayak founder Paul English, whom he knew, for help.

The book Kidder ended up writing is quite different from the one he set out to do.

The book that emerges, A Truck Full of Money: One Man’s Quest to Recover from Great Success, may disappoint those looking for a nuts-and-bolts breakdown of coding or of Kayak’s innovations in user interface. But it will reward readers open to its philosophic nature and collage-like structure. It is at once a portrait of a precocious programmer and entrepreneur, and of his team of life-long collaborators; a meditation on mania and the peculiar mindset behind computer coding; and a look at men driven to create and build, make a lot of money, and then give it all away.

SNM provided a fascinating backstory to the philosophy, people and intangibles of tech and it seems Kidder has done that again.

It’s a somewhat rare, in-depth look at the humanity that exists in the tech world.

I sincerely hope A Truck Full of Money wins Kidder another Pulitzer.

And that you enjoy it.

How to be Dumb as Google

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ficusrock/5716144109/

When it comes to hiring, as Forrest Gump would say, “stupid is as stupid does.”

And stupid is using recruiters who think the only “right” answer to a technical question is the one written on a sheet of paper. (Note that “technical” can refer to the specifics of any field, although in this case it was software.)

No knowledge or understanding of the subject; just the blind focus on the written words — kind of like talking to customer service when the rep keeps repeating their script no matter how you phrase the question — and no recognition that they may wrong.

The call started off well but as the interview progressed, Guathier got an increasing number of questions wrong. His frustration grew as he tried to discuss the answers with the Google recruiter only to find that the recruiter wanted the exact answer in the test book even if alternative solutions were better.

The company is Google and it should be noted that they approached the candidate, as opposed to his applying.

Way back in 2007 Google announce that they had developed an algorithm to screen candidates.

It didn’t work.

Google was also famous for its brain-teaser questions.

Only, according to Lazlo Block, SVP of People Operations, they are a lousy predictor of success.

“Part of the reason is that those are tests of a finite skill, rather than flexible intelligence which is what you actually want to hire for.”

The value of elite colleges and high grades was publically debunked in a 2013 story about the prevalence of grade inflation.

Not all Google’s efforts fall in the stupid category; block’s efforts to educate both management and workers about bias is definitely a smart move.

But locking technically ignorant recruiters into accepting only set responses to tech question rates right up there with algorithms and brain-teasers. And I say this as someone who was a tech recruiter for more than 12 years.

Of course, managers’ interviewing skills won’t matter, since  the best, most knowledgeable, most creative candidates will be screened out before they ever see them.

Image credit: Chris Pond

Ducks in a Row: Walmart — King of Spin

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/64738468@N00/2212721973/

More proof that what What Walmart really excels at is PR and spin.

After years of angry customer complaints about dirty stores, unstocked shelves, uncaring employees and an exodus of customers to the competition Walmart had an epiphany.

Maybe, just maybe, they had cut worker pay too far.

What if paying workers more, training them better and offering better opportunities for advancement can actually make a company more profitable, rather than less? “Efficiency wages” is the term that economists — who excel at giving complex names to obvious ideas — use for the notion that employers who pay workers more than the going rate will get more loyal, harder-working, more productive employees in return.

Of course, Henry Ford figured that out in 1914 and companies such as Costco have followed suit.

Ford astonished the world in 1914 by offering a $5 per day wage ($110 today), which more than doubled the rate of most of his workers. (…) The move proved extremely profitable; instead of constant turnover of employees, the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford, bringing their human capital and expertise, raising productivity, and lowering training costs.

However, these days, money isn’t everything. People want more challenges, more ways to grow and better career opportunities.

“We realized quickly that wages are only one part of it, that what also matters are the schedules we give people, the hours that they work, the training we give them, the opportunities you provide them,” said Judith McKenna, who became chief operating officer in late 2014, in a recent interview. “What you’ve got to do is not just fix one part, but get all of these things moving together.”

“Quickly?” Considering the years of complaints, falling sales and stock price I’m not sure “quickly” is particularly accurate.

Just think. People who earn more money have more discretionary money to spend.

Rocket science? No, just logic.

But making your company look like a hero for paying people $18K a year definitely is rocket science.

Flickr image credit: mario

Golden Oldies: The Story Behind a Great Interview Question

Monday, October 24th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back at more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

I’ve written a lot over the years about hiring, but it’s a subject that never gets old. We’re going to be looking at the subject again this week and I thought this Golden Oldie would be a good way to kick off the conversation.

Read other Golden Oldies here

https://www.flickr.com/photos/warrenski/4300670672Michael Cascio, a former executive at the National Geographic Channel, A&E and Animal Planet, who now runs M&C Media, has a favorite interview question.

Early on he asks, “What did you do in the summers during college and high school?”

Not a question most candidates are expecting, but one that stems from Cascio’s personal experience.

He worked two summers as a janitor at the Wolf Trap event venue while he was getting his MBA.

You might not expect that would be a defining experience for a “middle-class college kid headed for a white-collar life,” but it was.

Cascio says it was in that job that he learned the basics of a great career and it was his janitorial boss who gave him the best career advice.

The basics:

You have to show up every day, and on time. You have to appreciate everyone who works around you. You should acknowledge — and learn to deal with — the pecking order in the working world. You have to exert yourself in ways you may not have learned in school. And you often have to do things that have nothing — and everything — to do with your career and your life ahead.

The best advice:

“Never turn down a chance to take on more responsibility.”

The point is that it’s not just about what candidates have done, but what they learned from the experience that matters—no matter what it was.

Flickr image credit: warrenski

If the Shoe Fits: Juxtaposition of Values

Friday, October 21st, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI’ve been talking, a lot in the last few weeks about the importance of values.

And more importantly, why/how they need to be embedded in your company’s culture to protect it as you grow.

Not just my thoughts, but links to business leaders and entrepreneurs who say the same thing.

The problem, of course, is that talk is fast and easy, while execution takes time and effort.

And that’s the reason  the result often looks like this.

https://twitter.com/CBinsights/status/788375800470990848?utm_source=CB+Insights+Newsletter&utm_campaign=942ceb88a7-TuesNL_10_18_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9dc0513989-942ceb88a7-87432613

Image credit: HikingArtist and Thomson Reuters via CB Insights

Entrepreneurs: Tien Tzuo on Learning from Marc Benioff

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/9289616655/Founders have a new, or should I say, back to the future, attitude regarding the success of their companies.

It can be summed up in one word: revenue.

While there are great examples and plenty of advice on generating revenue, as opposed to just growing users, I think these four lessons that Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, the eleventh hire at Salesforce.Com and its first CMO, learned from Marc Benioff are worth keeping front and center in your mind (details are at the link.).

  • Pitching is Listening.
  • Run towards big ideas, not away.
  • Never lose sight of your first principles.
  • Tear Up the Master Plan.

Based on my experience, founders, especially younger founders, will have the most trouble with the first and the third in the list.

Pitching is Listening: whether driven by passion, nervousness or fear, most founders want to push their vision, their product, their ideas to potential customers.

Marc is always testing his ideas, testing his strategy, testing his vision.  Marc is always in a mindset to listen, to observe, to understand, and it’s this discipline that allows him to always be in touch with the marketplace. It’s easy for people in his position to get disconnected and fall prey to myopic thinking.

Never lose sight of your first principles: it takes thought and a solid knowledge of oneself to identify core principles. Unfortunately, taking the time and spending the energy on such an ostensibly esoteric goal seems to happen less and less these days.

Try searching “invest in yourself” and you’ll find that most talk about adding skills, exploring/developing your creativity and maximizing physical and mental health.

That’s all good, but if you truly want to invest in yourself then set aside time to know yourself, i.e., your values and basic principles; the intangibles that make you you.

Image credit: Howard Lake

The Humorous Side of Layoffs

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/searchengineland/2263318234/Michael Smith, CEO of TeraTech and a past client of mine, sent a link to a Medium post about recognizing the signs that a layoff is coming.

Here are three examples.

  • Fresh CEO blood.
  • Loss of eye contact.
  • Earlier rounds of layoffs.

I  would add

  • Lots of smoke and dancing by management, instead of answers.

Obviously, layoffs aren’t funny.

However, management’s belief that no one will notice the signs is funny.

Why?

Because you can’t brag about hiring smart people and then assume they will miss the telltale signs around them that something is wrong.

Image credit: search-engine-land

Ducks in a Row: John Legere and T-Mobile

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016
T-Mobile un-carrier movement

*click image to read

John Legere is not your typical big company CEO. Legere is an ancient 58 year-old leading a company filled with Millennials in a market driven by them.

Perhaps he should be termed the “un-CEO,” just as he is branding T-Mobile as the “un-carrier.”

… his mission to turn T-Mobile into an Un-carrier — essentially the opposite of any other mobile company.

The interview with him is worth reading, especially if you want to learn how to compete against brands (AT&T and Verizon) that are better known and far richer and successfully lead people who are not like you.

In just four short years he has taken Deutsche Telekom owned T-Mobile from a joke to the third-largest and fastest-growing carrier in the US.

Not too shabby.

He radically changed the culture, and, as he says, “set out to solving customer pain points in an attempt to fix a stupid, broken, arrogant industry.”

And not just with talk; but with an additional million square miles of LTE and new services, such as Binge On (unlimited streaming at 480p quality from services like Netflix), forcing competitors to follow suit.

His advice to business school students is something that anybody at the helm of any company, from the the corner dry cleaner to the Fortune 5, should embrace.

“I can summarize everything you need to know to lead a major corporation. Are you prepared to write this down?” And then they get all ready. I tell them I can summarize how I succeed as a leader: Listen to your employees, listen to your customers, shut the f— up, and do what they tell you. Then I say that the genius of the marketing strategy that we’ve had in every company that I’ve ever been in, is that if you ask your customers what they want and you give it to them, you shouldn’t be shocked if they love it.

Ask your customers. Listen to your customers. Give your customers what they want.

Definitely rocket science.

Image credit: T-Mobile via BI

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