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An Insightful Comment On Cheating

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

I received an email yesterday morning from the CEO of a well-known growth company. He wrote regarding yesterday’s post about cheating.

I asked why he wrote instead of leaving it as a comment.

He replied, I would rather avoid having it associated with me. If you want to write a post and have anonymous attribution, that’s fine. 

It’s an important observation and one that is especially applicable now. I’m sharing it with no additional comments from me.

Anything I tried to add would be superfluous and detract from its importance.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/9557815@N05/30738398861/When there are strong incentives to cheat and large negative consequences if one avoids cheating (since everyone is doing it), what should be the inducement for not cheating?

Where cheating is rewarded, truth and uprightness has potentially large negative consequences.

An organization or society built on fraud, trickery and deceit will eventually descend into chaos and anarchy.

Without leadership among both common people and the privileged, this is inexorable destiny.

Whenever there is a trend toward something, there are significant costs associated with changing the trajectory.

Who can or should be willing to bear these costs?

Image credit: Abi Skipp

Ducks in a Row: Cheating As A Basis Of Culture

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

What do Hampton Creek, Theranos, Zenefits, Lending Club, WrkRiot, ScoreBig, Rothenberg Ventures have in common?

They all channeled the “fake it ‘til you make it” ethos of Silicon Valley.

Only they didn’t make it.

Previous well-known cheats include MiniScribe, WorldCom and Enron and they’re only the tip of the iceberg.

Cheating is the getting of a reward for ability or finding an easy way out of an unpleasant situation by dishonest means. It is generally used for the breaking of rules to gain unfair advantage in a competitive situation. — Wikipedia

Yesterday’s post focused on the prevalence of cheating at all school levels and its acceptance as a laissez-faire, “everyone does it” attitude.

Of course, cheating isn’t new, but the more ubiquitous it’s become the more it’s been shrugged off.

And it’s this cheating mindset that has shaped Silicon Valley over the last decade or so.

Along with faking it is the “do whatever it takes to win” form of cheating as exemplified by Uber’s Travis Kalanick.

Cheating on ideas, such as meritocracy and fairness, has certainly contributed to the rise of the bro culture, also exemplified by Uber and recently documented by Susan Fowler. However, as Uber engineer Aimee Lucido points out, Uber is far from being alone.

It does seem that a large percentage of the egos that drive, and aspire to drive, innovation, along with the egos that fund that drive, have lost touch with the society they claim to serve and, instead, bought into an attitude espoused by Donald Trump.

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

We would be better off if they would channel Sophocles, instead.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/5382067751/

 

Image credit: Sean MacEntee

Golden Oldies: Flavors of Fools

Monday, February 20th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over 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 are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

I’ve written several posts over the years about fools (links below). I thought sharing previous thoughts was apropos, since tomorrow’s post is about the importance/value of fools to every organization.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmak/2575149616/

In the past we’ve looked at fools and money, fools and management and Shakespeare’s idea that one should never underestimate someonewise enough to play the fool.”

One fool thing I haven’t addressed is the idea of suffering them gladly, as in ‘he doesn’t suffer fools gladly’.

An op-ed piece defines the saying this way,

It suggests that a person is so smart he has trouble tolerating people who are far below his own high standards. It is used to describe a person who is so passionately committed to a vital cause that he doesn’t have time for social niceties toward those idiots who stand in its way. It is used to suggest a level of social courage; a person who has the guts to tell idiots what he really thinks.

(If you buy the validity of the idea behind this definition I have a great deal on an orange bridge you can buy for your backyard.)

It isn’t courage this person has, but rather a lack of empathy, an abundance of arrogance and absolutely no manners.

And make no mistake, even these days manners are important; in fact, more so than ever. As Edmund Burke said,

“Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.”

So before you part a fool and his money, give a fool a tool, or refuse to suffer a fool I suggest you look in the mirror, because one person’s genius is another person’s fool.

Flickr image credit: Chris Makarsky

Ducks In A Row: Are We Going Backwards?

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Whether you were alive in 1984 or not, you’ve probably seen Apple’s Super bowl ad. It’s reshown almost every year and has been consistently voted the top-rated Super Bowl ad ever made, which is saying a lot.

When the ad was made women were on an upward trend and were respected members of the tech community — unlike now.

Watching the ad again last week I got to wondering.

If that ad were made today would the person throwing the hammer be a woman?

Or would it be the proverbial “twenty-something guy in a hoodie?”

Video credit: antisubliminal

Golden Oldies: Bullies And Performance

Monday, February 6th, 2017

https://twitter.com/goldenoldiesbnnIt’s amazing to me, but looking back over 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 hate bullies. The biggest changes in the decade since I wrote this post are that there are more bullies, many using the anonymity of the internet to morph into trolls, more hand-wringing, that accomplishes nothing, and a rising tide less willing to be bullied that responds loudly and displays its disgust actively with its wit and its feet. Hopefully that tide will turn into a tsunami.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Does your newspaper carry The Born Loser by Chip Sansom? Actually, I don’t find Brutus, the main character, to be a loser—just a slightly naive guy who works for an arrogant bully who constantly belittles him.

In the July 26 panel the dialog is as follows:

Boss: I am looking for a unique spin to put on our new ad campaign—do you have any ideas?

Brutus: Gee, Chief, I’m not sure—are there any ideas you think I should think of?

Boss: Brutus Thornapple, master of thinking inside the box.

It reminded me of managers I’ve known, who, no matter what happened or what feedback they received, never could understand that it was their MAP and their actions, not their people’s, that was the root cause of their under-performing groups.

After all, if you

  • ask for input and ridicule those who offer it, why be surprised when you stop receiving input;
  • claim that you want to solve problems while they’re still molehills, yet kill the messengers who bring the news, you should expect to grapple with mountainous problems requiring substantially more resources;
  • tell people their ideas are stupid, whether directly or circumspectly, or, worse, that they are for thinking of them, why should they offer themselves up for another smack with the verbal two-by-four?

So, before you start ranting or whining about your group’s lack of initiative and innovation, try really listening to yourself and the feedback you get and then look in the mirror—chances are the real culprit will be looking straight back at you.

Fight Hate: Take Action NOW

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

http://www.businessinsider.com/womens-march-washington-signs-2017-1/#-42

Today is (or should be) the first day of the rest of your life speaking out and actively working for the world in which you want to live. To do everything you can to quell the rise of hate and change the direction of your world.

If you care it’s time to act — not wait for the other guy to do it.

I’m sure that some of my readers are happy with its direction and will be very unhappy with this post. They may even unsubscribe (it’s happened in the past), but that is their right and I respect that.

But hopefully the rest of you will heed this call to action, take time to read the links and time to think about the world you want — not just for yourself, but for you current/future kids and their kids, etc.

Last December I wrote about a pledge by techs not to build a Muslim registery and I quoted the words of Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor and rabid anti-Nazi, who spent seven years in a concentration camp.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

This resonates with me because I am Jewish, granted I’m a sectarian Jew, but bigots don’t make that distinction.

My father’s family had the choice of emigrating from Russia or dying by the had of the Cossacks.

My Romanian grandmother was lucky. Her sister’s husband had only enough money to bring one sister to the US and she drew the short straw. The rest of the family died in the Holocaust.

I doubt it was an accident that the executive order was issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I’m also a nobody and MAPping Company Success is barely a gnat in the blogsphere, but I’m adding my voice to Fred Wilson’s Make America Hate Again, Mark Suster’s Never Let Anybody Tell You to Shut Up and many others.

The hate being shown to this wave of refugees echoes the hate shown to past waves, but this time it’s far more hysterical and fraught.  

As for the argument that the Muslim ban fights terrorism, what really are the odds that you might die in a terrorist attack in the US, especially compared to all the other ways to die? Take a look at the hard data.

odds of dying

Yes, ISIS is real, but terrorism on our soil is an excellent cover for one of the truly ugly underlying reasons today’s refugees are so violently rejected — they are black.

Anand Sanwal provided an insightful comment in his typically irreverent style.

So I landed in India with my daughter on Saturday and saw the news about immigration changes in the USA.
I don’t think American citizens of Indian descent are banned from re-entering the USA yet, but let me know if anything changes as I got another 5 days here and things appear to be changing quickly.
For the time being, I believe my type of brown person is still considered ok so that’s a relief. But definitely let me know if that changes. Thanks.

From Trump to Tea Party you are seeing the second coming of WASP thinking.

If this isn’t who you are then you need to speak out.

Not only speak out, but get active NOW.

How?

By getting involved in Swing Left, an organized effort to take back the House in 2018 or go directly to the Swing Left website.

The operative word is NOW.

Image credit: Dave Mosher/Business Insider

Golden Oldies: Ducks in a Row: They Are Not You

Monday, January 30th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over 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.

In case you might think this post contradicts the one about how to be a great boss by giving your people what you wanted from you boss, it doesn’t.

The difference happens if you provide what you wanted, but only the way that would satisfy you, with no consideration of how they want it.

For example, recognition. While most people crave it, they want it displayed in different ways. I’ve always liked mine loud, more or less public and without having to ask. (Asking is akin to reminding your person that it’s your anniversary/birthday/Valentine’s Day, because they obviously forgot.) Others don’t want a fuss; to them, recognition comes from nothing being said. For them, feedback happens when something is wrong, so silence means everything is fine.

The trick is to not only give people what they (and you) want, but to give it to them how they want — sincerely.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hammer51012/3545163854Most of us crave acknowledgement when we do something well, I know I do.

Decades ago when I worked as a recruiter for MRI in San Francisco my boss, “Ray,” wasn’t big on that.

It’s not that he wouldn’t do it, he just never thought about it.

Acknowledgement wasn’t something Ray needed, so he was blind to its effect on others.

When he did give the kind of heady feedback that makes people hungry for more, you could see that he didn’t understand it.

Worse, more often than not, it came in response to what he was told — you literally had to walk into his office and say you closed the deal or got a new client to have it happen. 

But praise caught by fishing or out-and-out asking is not worth a whole lot when it comes to motivation.

Nor did he understand how to build a strong team; the kind that could put an ‘Office of the Year’ award on the wall.

I still remember his effort to create the same esprit de corps as “Jeff,” another MRI manager and good friend of his, enjoyed.

The effort failed, probably because Ray considered Jeff’s approach rah-rah stuff — the kind of stuff he was known to disparage.

Ray’s problem was similar to many managers I’ve worked with over the years, i.e., he assumed others wanted to be managed in the same way he liked to be managed.

When Ray did try doing it differently it felt like a con.

Which it was, because he didn’t really believe in what he was doing.

Image credit: Jim Hammer

If The Shoe Fits: Hypocrisy And Greed In Startup Land

Friday, January 27th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mTuesday I cited a post by Scott Belsky on Medium talking about how employees are often conned (my word) by founders, especially unicorns, when it comes to the wealth that is supposed to flow from their ISO.

As pithy as the post was, some of the comments were even pithier. I especially like this one from  colorfulfool (21st comment)

If profitability were proportional to hypocrisy, there would be no failed startups in the Valley.

Not just true, but succinctly and elegantly stated.

Founders love to talk about the importance of transparency, trust and authenticity.

However, their stock plans and pitfalls thereof exhibit such a high degree of opaqueness and caveat emptor that they kick a hole the size of Texas in the fabric of the founders’ authenticity.

Another prevalent piece of hypocrisy is “change the world.”

Do you really believe that another dating app or being able to evaluate a new restaurant or a better way to buy your groceries will change the world?

While they may impact one’s personal world, they certainly don’t have the impact of something like Mine Kafon.

What is proportional to the Valley’s hypocrisy is its sheer greed.

Actually, when I stop to think about it, the greed probably exceeds even the hypocrisy.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Role Model: Craig Zoberis and Fusion OEM

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

http://www.fusionoem.com/

In 1914 Henry Ford doubled his workers’ daily wage, much to the consternation of other magnates, who believed, as do most of them today, that success comes from paying as little as possible.

Ford, however, believed that he would benefit if his workers had disposable income and he was correct; they used the extra money to buy Fords.

The same holds true today; modern research has proved that higher wages increase profits.

Businesses, from very large to very small, still don’t believe it and scream at the thought of a so-called living wage.

But not all of them.

Fusion OEM at just $12 million is considered very small, but it’s profitable and founder Craig Zoberis is very happy, because he is meeting his twin goals.

While lots of other manufacturers have moved operations to China or Mexico, Zoberis has kept his plant in the United States – and considers it a point of pride to pay his 55 workers above-market rates. Workers with no experience start at $14-an-hour, he says, and by completing training and gaining skills can reach $18-to-20-an-hour, plus overtime and bonuses, for total pay near $50,000 a year, within a few years.

Zoberis doesn’t expect his people to buy his products, but he did want to have a  place to work that matched his MAP and not his father’s.

My father and his partner never did a good job of hiring the right people with the right attitude. I wanted to be excited to go to work every day, and working for my father’s company, I was not.

Fusion OEM has never had a layoff, but finding great workers in its industry is just as difficult as finding great programmers, hence the need for a creative, long-term solution.

My colleagues were always complaining that there aren’t enough skilled workers who have the right attitude. When I talk about skilled workers I’m talking about machinists (…) What we discovered halfway through our life at Fusion is that we couldn’t always look outside for skilled people. We decided to hire for attitude and train for aptitude.

Fusion OEM is enjoying double digit growth, but Zoberis isn’t interested in taking outside investment. He loves going to work, saying, “This is my hobby, my income, my life,” and knows that hyper growth can kill you.

You can’t grow your company any faster than you can get the right people. If it goes too far, you might go beyond your capabilities and you’ll fail.

The interview is well worth reading, especially their approach to hiring and compensation.

I rarely make predictions, but in this case I feel pretty safe making two.

  1. Zoberis will continue building his company, growing his own people and being a management outlier.
  2. Most companies of whatever size will continue to treat people as disposable, pay them as little as possible and bitch about them to whomever will listen.

Image credit: Fusion OEM

Where To Work

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/9698637692/

There’s a very stupid myth that only the very talented are hired by startups and that the very talented only want to work for startups.

The corollary being that those who work for public companies, let alone large ones, probably aren’t all that talented and certainly not innovative/creative.

What a crock.

Another part of that myth is that working for a startup is the road to riches.

An even bigger crock.

The myth also says that the best place to work is a unicorn, such as or AirBnB, GitHub or Palantir,

And that is the biggest crock of all.

If you are looking for new opportunities and are dazzled by the idea of working at a unicorn I strongly suggest you read Scott Belsky’s post on Medium.

A company’s fate is ultimately determined by its people, so talent is everything. But this old adage bumps up against another one: cash is king (or runway is king, for a fast-growing private company). Without runway, talent takes off. So, it is no surprise that bold moves to extend runway (think late-stage financings at technically large valuations with some tricky liquidation preferences underneath) are done even if they could hurt the company (and its people) in the long run. This is especially true when these financings are ego-driven rather than strategic. The problem is, the employees at these companies don’t understand the implications.

But whether startup or Unicorn, this anonymous post on GitHub is a must read.

This is a short write-up on things that I wish I’d known and considered before joining a private company (aka startup, aka unicorn in some cases). I’m not trying to make the case that you should never join a private company, but the power imbalance between founder and employee is extreme, and that potential candidates would do well to consider alternatives.

The right place for you to work is the one that satisfies what you want — whether that’s the opportunity to work on bleeding edge technology, build a network, upgrade your resume or even plain, old curiosity.

The wrong place is the one you join with an eye to getting rich quick or for bragging rights.

Image credit: Mike Mozart

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