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Golden Oldies: Cope or Control (That is the Question)

Monday, August 28th, 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.

We live in stressful times. Escalating political discord, both in the US and abroad, disappearing jobs due to technology and disruption of those that are left; bullying has reached new heights and FOMO is on the rise — and there is nothing you can do to control any of it. However, it is within your power to choose how you respond to the stress factors in your life.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/eamoncurry/6072966411/Stress is bad, right?

Bad for your health, bad for your relationships, bad for your life.

Or is it?

Actually stress can be a positive motivator.

So perhaps it’s not stress, but how we handle it.

The article may be looking at kids, but kids grow up to be adults and genetic traits come along for the ride.

One particular gene, referred to as the COMT gene, could to a large degree explain why one child is more prone to be a worrier, while another may be unflappable, or in the memorable phrasing of David Goldman, a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health, more of a warrior.

Granted, the researchers were looking at short-term, i.e., competitive stress, but the solution was still the same as it is for stress that lasts longer. (The COMT gene also has a major impact on interviewing.)

They found a way to cope.

For many people stress is the result of losing control.

But if there is anything experience should have taught you by a very early age is that you can’t control your world; not even a tiny part of it.

I learned that lesson as a child of five when my father died and nothing ever happened after that to change my mind.

If you put your energy into controlling stuff to avoid stress you are bound to fail.

Energy spent on control is energy wasted.

Energy focused on coping provides exceptional ROI.

Image credit: Eamon Curry

If The Shoe Fits: Parse.ly Finds Enough

Friday, August 25th, 2017

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 working with startups since the 1980s; long before many of the current crop of entrepreneurs were born.

Back then, startups were focused on raising enough.

Enough was the minimal amount needed to develop their product start selling it — with the tightly focused goal of building a viable, sustainable business with strong financials and profit.

An old fashioned idea in an era where founders are lauded for their fund-raising skills and their companies are valued accordingly.

However, the idea of enough is gaining supporters.

The most recent is Sachin Kamdar, CEO of Parse.ly.

Kamdar needed to raise $5 million and couldn’t, in spite of strong financials and substantial growth.

Why?

They didn’t want enough money.

While they wanted 5 million, the VCs said they weren’t thinking big enough and offered 25 million and, eventually, 40 million.

What’s really going on here?

As has been noted by many entrepreneurs, and even some investors, VCs don’t offer what’s best for your company.

They offer what is best for their company.

Because they are awash with money, then need to deploy it. They’re limited by how many companies they can work with, so their preference is to make larger investments in fewer companies.

From studying the data, this much is clear: VCs are cash-rich right now, and it’s affecting startups. It pushes companies to raise more money than they actually need. Their viewpoint is, if VCs focus on writing bigger check sizes to companies that have a conceivable path to $100M in annual revenue, then they can put their capital to work “efficiently”. But that efficiency is self-defeating: writing bigger check sizes doesn’t, in itself, put that capital efficiently to work. It might, instead, breed company inefficiency.

VCs also don’t really care who succeeds; they only need one or two 10X successes for their fund to succeed.

In the end, Kamdar turned to his board for advice and found the solution, instead.

Our existing investors knew our business better than anyone. They understood how we were able to scale revenue and product on a lean budget. While they’d seen other SaaS companies come and go since our 2013 Series A, Parse.ly maintained rapid growth. And as it turned out, not only was there enough money to meet $5M in financing, most all of our past investors wanted to double-down. As a result, we ended up raising $6.8M.

A good outcome for Parse.ly and the data they uncovered means a better one for you.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Corrupting The American Dream

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

http://www.ethos.org.au/online-resources/engage-mail/is-there-a-christian-way-to-vote-voting-your-values

Do you watch Shark Tank? I do, but there is one thing that drives me nuts.

It’s the constant reference by all the Sharks, especially Mark Cuban, to the American Dream.

It’s the idea that starting a business and financial success is proof that the American (every country has it’s own version) Dream is alive and well.

Only problem is that making money and owning a house were never what the original dream was about.

The term was popularized in a 1931 book, “The Epic of America,” by James Truslow Adams, and referred to far more intrinsic values and I seriously doubt that even .05% of people are aware of the original meaning.

Mr. Adams emphasized ideals rather than material goods, a “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.” And he clarified, “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and recognized by others for what they are.

We’ve come a long way since 1931, but seem to have forgotten to bring our values along.

Thanks to KG for sending the article.

Image credit: ethos.org

Ducks in a Row: Handwriting Enhances Creativity

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pazzani/15583603389/

Yesterday’s post focused on the importance of good writing when in a professional setting.

Pure coincidence, but an article today in the International Business Times talks about the negative effect of using smiley faces in business emails. (Emphasis mine.)

According to the study, while smiling during face-to-face communication was perceived as warm and indicated more competence with regards to the first impressions created, a text-based representation of a smile in computer-mediated communication did not have the same effect.

“Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” said Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management.

Definitely something to share with your team.

What else can writing do?

Free up your creativity.

But only if you put down the keyboard and pick up a pen or pencil.

Anyone can benefit from penmanship’s cognitive benefits, whether you’re taking notes at a meeting or just trying to figure out what you think.

Put another way, writing by hand engages your brain, while keyboarding does not.

Brain scans during the two activities also show that forming words by hand as opposed to on a keyboard leads to increased brain activity (pdf). Scientific studies of children and adults show that wielding a pen when taking notes, rather than typing, is associated with improved long-term information retention, better thought organization, and increased ability to generate ideas.

Writing by hand forces you to turn off distractions, whether smartphone, computer, or music.

Writing by hand forces you to focus.

Writing by hand forces you to really listen; it makes you process what is being said and be more selective in what you record as opposed to running on autopilot.

If you never learned to write by hand, or have forgotten how, there are classes.

And if you don’t believe it works, try it.

You may find yourself very much surprised.

Image credit: Mike’s Birds

Golden Oldies: The Write Way To Success

Monday, August 21st, 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.

Eight years ago I wrote for a blog network called b5media (the posts are archived here). Since then I’ve waited in vain for writing to improve, but guess what — it hasn’t. Even professional writing, Is pretty bad. I read Business Insider daily and the errors I see make me cringe; not subtle grammatical errors, but the obvious kind that tell you that the articles wasn’t even spell checked. In other words, just plain sloppy. I get asked all the time, does anyone care? The answer is a resounding yes. People “feel” when something’s off, whether they can explain it or not. Often, it’s not even conscious, just a subconscious itch they can’t track, but makes then squirm. We’ve all seen business casual dress carried too far; business writing shouldn’t be carried at all.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Wally Bock left a comment today on a post at Leadership Turn. In part it said,

“When I was responsible for hiring management trainees years ago, I discovered that grades and degrees and schools didn’t tell me much. What I looked for where two things. Could a prospect write? If not, there was no need to go farther. The other thing I looked for was actual work experience.”

Wally would have trouble hiring anyone these days considering the atrocious stuff written by students and grads who are so busy texting that they can’t be bothered to learn to write readable, coherent, English.

It’s a good thing that writing isn’t most managers make-or-break or offers would be few and far between—and I don’t just mean new grads.

I don’t have a great desire to be forced to decipher hip-hop, Valley Girl, Ebonics, Spanglish, Country-Western, 18-wheeler or all lower case with no punctuation in order to communicate.

None of these may matter in private life, but they don’t contribute a whole lot in the context of what it takes to make it today.

Several years ago I wrote Good writing fast—an oxymoron and last year I asked, “Are most people loosing their minds while I am losing mine? during another minor rant.

I’m not a total dinosaur, if all that’s wrong in most communications is a misplaced semi-colon or an occasional preposition at the end of a sentence who cares?

People don’t realize that, consciously or not, they’re judged by what they write, just as they are by what they wear or drive or went to school—even people whose own writing is terrible will downgrade others for the same thing.

If you can’t write and want a future take classes; if you’re people can’t write send them for training.

And if you won’t/can’t do that, there is one simple thing you can do to improve your writing.

Read. Turn off the computer and the TV; take off your iPod and turn off your phone; pick up a well-written book and READ. It doesn’t matter if it’s great literature, a biography, mystery, or hilarious chic lit.

Read every chance you get and make more chances; pay attention and you’ll be amazed at how fast your writing improves.

Image credit: sxc.hu

Ducks in a Row: Education For Tomorrow’s Heroes

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dimsis/17826882135/

The talk of heroes and the need to change their traits and profile started last week when I shared a post from Wally Bock.

Sadly, need doesn’t always drive change, so, if our society really believes there is a need to change our heroes, we must look to how we educate our children.

What about education? Is its primary purpose to prepare humans to earn a living?

Mark Zukerberg and other tech titans would have you believe STEM is critical and that tech is the solution to education’s woes.

But if that’s true, why did Steve Jobs limit his kids’ tech at home and why do so many in the tech world send their kids to schools that allow no tech?

If money, tech, and extracurricular opportunities are what’s critical to kids success, why is the teen suicide rate climbing fastest in high-income, suburban, mostly white schools (along with elite colleges and among entrepreneurs, also mostly white males).

Is there more to education than providing workers to Facebook, Google, and the rest of techdom — who will be needed only until AI is trained to write code?

There definitely is more and it was elegantly summed up by Malcolm Forbes.

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.

In 2009, there was a boycott by conservative parents over a back-to-school speech by then-President Obama that focused on personal responsibility and personal choice.

However, no such blowup surrounded the speech given this year by Chief Justice John Roberts at Cardigan, his son’s private, all male prep school that addressed similar topics and attitudes. (This is an excerpt, read the entire speech at the link.)

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

I think if you’re going to look forward to figure out where you’re going, it’s good to know where you’ve been and to look back as well.

But you are also privileged young men. And if you weren’t privileged when you came here, you are privileged now because you have been here. My advice is: Don’t act like it (emphasis mine).

The only way we will change our hero leaders from the shallow ideologues of today is by changing education.

A new breed of heroes requires different skills, such as deep thinking, critical thinking, empathy and the entire range of so-called soft skills.

Ideology, no matter the flavor or parameters, just won’t cut it.

Image credit: Dimitris Siskopoulos

Golden Oldies: The Idiocy Of Ideologues

Monday, August 14th, 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.

Echo Chambers. They’ve been with us since humans first stood erect. We hear what we want to hear; listen only to those who agree with us. Seek out the likeminded with whom to spend our time. And, when all else fails, people have been known to go beyond the acceptable to prove they are right. But when this happens at work, what’s a manager to do?

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Last week I had a call from a “Rick,” marketing manager, with what he thought was a unique problem—sadly it’s not as uncommon as you might think.

Short version. “Chris” is one of his top producing marketing people and extremely valuable to the team and the company. Recently, the team had a vehement disagreement on a marketing plan, but finally decided to go with an approach different from the one that Chris had championed.

Since then, Chris has made a number of comments and suggestions that undermine the current effort and has privately said that she hopes it fails because the other approach was better.

The team was starting to notice and some were losing confidence—a sure way to guarantee failure.

Rick said he had talked a bit with Chris; she denied that she was sabotaging the campaign and if it failed it would be because the wrong choice was made.

When I asked if Chris was always such an ideologue Rick was startled. He hadn’t thought of her actions in those terms, but after thinking it over he decided that she was a bit, although normally not to this extent.

Rick went on to say that it was ironic, because during the election Chris had been adamant that the “hide-bound ideology on both sides was creating problems for the country” and that she thought Obama was less locked into a specific, narrow ideology than most politicians.

More recently, she had been furious with Rush Limbaugh’s comment “I hope Obama fails,” seeing it as destructive and unpatriotic.

And therein, as I told Rick, lay his solution. Here is what I suggested.

  • Arrange a conversation without interruptions, such as an off-site lunch.
  • Make a production of turning off your cell phone (if Rick isn’t answering his, Chris is unlikely to interrupt to answer hers).
  • Keep the tone conversational; avoid anything that sounds like an accusation or makes the lunch feel like a confrontation.
  • Remind Chris’ about her previous thoughts regarding ideologues.
  • Once she confirms her thoughts gently draw the parallel between her attitudes and an ideologue.
  • Use her own words and feelings to refute whatever defense she raises (again, without attacking her).
  • Keep it conversational and take your time leading her to the recognition that her actions are the same as those she dislikes, just in a different arena.

Rick called today to say they’d had lunch that day and the conversation went exactly as predicted. It wasn’t perfectly smooth and there were some dicey moments, but when that happened he backed away and tried another route. He said that it would have been impossible to do in the office with interruptions and turning off their cells created a whole different mood.

He said that when Chris realized that she was doing a highly watered down version of Limbaugh she was openly shocked and very apologetic.

Instead of leaving it there, Rick took extra time to walk through the competing plans and why the team had chosen the one and not the other. He explained that it wasn’t that Chris was wrong, she just held a different opinion and that was OK, but it wasn’t OK do anything to undermine the program—even unconsciously.

With a more open mind Chris grudgingly agreed to the reasoning. She said that in spite of still feeling the other plan was better she would do everything in her power to make the project work. She said that the success of the project was more important than being “right.”

Rick was lucky because a critical member of his team was also a rational thinking person who could see a parallel when it was pointed out and not enough of a hypocrite to claim “that’s different…”

Chris was lucky because she worked for a manager who valued her and was willing to take the time to help her change and grow.

How do you control your inner ideologue?

Or do you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last week I wrote Time To Get Off Your Ass And Lead (Yourself) and Ravi Tangri added some very intelligent thoughts in his comment. I hope you’ll take a moment to click over, read it and add your own thoughts to the conversation. It’s an important one for all of us.

Image credit: Gurdonark on flickr

This golden Oldie dates back to 2009 and includes a comment worth a click.

If The Shoe Fits: Travis Kalanick And Spin

Friday, August 11th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mArrogance seems to be a constant, whether in the cowboy heroes of yesterday or the “leader heroes” of today. Or perhaps we should say “unhero.”

Travis Kalanick is a true unhero and a good, if overused, example of above and beyond arrogance.

He publicly claimed he would be “Steve Jobs-ing” his dismissal and would return as CEO.

He still claims this in spite of a statement from Uber co-founder and director Garrett Camp, who says Kalanick will not return as CEO.

His “Steve Jobs-ing” comment refers to Jobs being forced out, but ignores the full story of how Jobs came back and what he did in the meantime (founded another company that Apple ended up acquiring).

What Jobs did NOT do was hire an advisory company that specialized in “CEO & Leadership positioning.”

“Through our close relationships with the world’s leading editors, reporters, producers, and hosts at top-tier print, online, and broadcast outlets, we develop and execute strategic, results-driven media engagement programs for CEOs that leverage traditional and social media platforms.”

More prosaically, it’s called spin.

In public relations and politics, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor or against some organization or public figure. … “spin” often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics.

In short, spin alleviates the necessity of actually changing.

All Kalanick needs to do is write a check, probably a sizable one, and Teneo, the company he hired, will sell the “new” Kalanick to the world.

All hail personal growth and authenticity — the myths of Silicon Valley — along with meritocracy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you are interested in authentic personal growth be sure to check out this month’s Leadership Development Carnival.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: What Do You Do When You’re In A Funk?

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ljguitar/4025554381/

Have you ever had one of those days where you just can’t seem to get it together?

You drink your coffee, go on your run, or perhaps your moment of zen. Yet that doesn’t get you out of your rut. What do you do about it?

I am in a stage of life where I am building. 

I am building my sales practice, building my family (up to five now), and building my wealth. I have found that those all keep me busy and I have little time for me. When I compare myself to my friends, though, they are in similar circumstances.

The ebb and flow of emotions is normal. Low points happen and should not be feared. However, if we allow ourselves to dwell too long, it can become more than a rut, it can be a lifestyle.

I have a new little girl at home and she is amazing. She also is a night owl and I have found that sleep deprivation and feeling down are directly correlated. My wife and I are walking around in a fog and I am not at my best.

I have started to become aware of this in the past week and have actively worked out ways to overcome it.

Currently my little one likes to wake around 5:30 in the morning. I have found if I just get up to go for a run I get the added bonus of watching the sun rise. That’s an amazing feeling.

I have also found that she likes to cry a bit so we stay up rocking her. This has led to my wife and I having genuine conversations because our phones aren’t attached to our faces. This has also been amazing as I actually like my wife. (To be clear I love her as well).

I say all of this because it’s on my mind. I know I am a bit low and I know others are too on occasion.

Ultimately it is our choice on how we proceed.

How will you proceed?

Image credit: Larry Jacobsen

The Importance Of Soft Skills

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/11984559914/

I said yesterday that we would take a look at the skills needed to succeed in today’s workplace and, more importantly, in the future.

You probably read Yonatan Zunger’s response to James Damore’s manifesto.

One of Damore’s arguments focused on the worthlessness of so-called “soft skills” in a tech company.

Zunger was emphatic in his disagreement.

Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers.

If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels…

Long ago tech more or less mastered the continued iterating of software and hardware, but when it comes to wetware not so much.

It’s soft skills that are crucial to when dealing with wetware, AKA, people.

Business Insider listed 16 skills that would pay off forever; the list was drawn from the responses to a question posted on Quora.

Empathy topped the list.

Empathy is the most important skill for understanding, relating, leading/managing and innovating.

These days, tech is enamored with life hacks and athleticism is all the rage.

Too bad more time isn’t spent developing and exercising what David Kelley, one of the founders of Stanford’s D School, calls the empathy muscle.

Image credit: Sean MacEntee

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