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The Hypocrites of Tech

Monday, September 15th, 2014

4744202563_f23be1cbb0_mSince it was first announced, iPad commercials have shown kids using them and millions of parents took to them to keep their kids entertained.

One major exception was Steve Jobs, the guru of consumer technology (his kids read hardcopy books).

“They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

Jobs wasn’t alone.

Since then, I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, Alex Constantinople, the chief executive of the OutCast Agency, Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium and Lesley Gold, founder and chief executive of the SutherlandGold Group all limit or say no to technology for their kids.

“That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” –Chris Anderson

Limited or outright banned, technology is handled differently by those in tech when it comes to their kids.

Although some non-tech parents I know give smartphones to children as young as 8, many who work in tech wait until their child is 14. While these teenagers can make calls and text, they are not given a data plan until 16. But there is one rule that is universal among the tech parents I polled.

“This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever,” Mr. Anderson said.

In the light of new research, barring electronic screens from the bedroom has taken on new urgency and not just for kids.

The blue light from personal electronic devices has also been linked to serious physical and mental health problems.

(My sister’s doctor warned her months ago, but it took the article to make her stop.)

What the tech world sees is no different from what other people see on the news, but they pay more attention.

Not that any of this will change the ads or overall marketing of tech—it will keep targeting kids—hook them early they’re yours for life—and encouraging people of all ages to use their screens when it’s dark.

So much for the vaunted tech values of authenticity and transparency.

Actually, taking a step back, tech’s attitude seems more in tune with politicians’ attitude—more of a do as I say, not as I do approach.

Flickr image credit: Ernest McGray, Jr.

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If the Shoe Fits: What Would You Do?

Friday, August 29th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mCisco CEO John Chambers constantly amazes me.

It’s not his 19 years of reinventing Cisco and keeping it on top, but for other stuff, such as Cisco’s disaster-focused Tactical Operations team.

They just did another very neat thing.

Read the article for the full story, but here’s the short version.

Connectify is a successful startup.

It makes a networking product called Connectify Hotspot that lets you turn any Windows computer into a Wi-Fi hotspot to share your internet connection. It’s been downloaded 65 million times and used for over 500 million hotspots.

Cisco is the world’s largest maker of hotspot equipment.

Connectify had been trying to buy the connectify.com domain since its founding (long story; read article).

Turned out that Cisco had acquired the domain as part of a long ago deal.

When the story came to light Cisco’s reaction was swift.

It immediately turned the domain over to Connectify at no cost.

Connectify publicly expressed its thanks.

Connectify’s CEO Alex Gizis was so thrilled that he wrote a public thank you post to Cisco and called Cisco the “hero” of the story. He then offered a free year of its hotspot service to all of Cisco’s 75,000 employees.

Here’s the question.

Under similar circumstances—hot startup/competing technology—how many of the CEOs at Google, Oracle, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, GE, 3M, HP, VMware, etc. would do the same thing?

What would you do?

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Ducks in a Row: Private vs. Public

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dkeats/6520047059/

Ask people what they do in private and you’ll probably hear far more detail than you want, but ask what they earn and they’ll either freak out at the question or be very insulted.

What they probably won’t do is tell you.

Sex used to be personal, but these days it is often broadcast to anyone who will listen, but not finances—although older workers are less likely to discuss either of them.

Companies are even more paranoid about keeping salaries confidential—sharing compensation information is a firing offense in many of them.

Usually, the more a company insists that the numbers are private the more likely people are to assume that something is rotten—or unfair.

After all, gossip tends to exaggerate things. Professor Lawler says studies show that when pay is confidential, workers often believe the salary distributions are more unfair than they really are.

That’s why Dane Atkinson, chief executive of SumAll, a data analytics company, does things differently.

When he helped found the company about three years ago, a decision was made to disclose all salaries and equity shares. (…) “In this way, more money goes not to those who negotiate better, but those who work the hardest,” he said. The people who resist making salaries more transparent, he said, “are usually those who think they’re making too much.”

The other people who resist are the bosses who are playing games with compensation.

You know, the ones who make the lowest offers possible and/or play favorites.

Compensation, whether salary or stock, should make sense to everyone; it should be plausible and accurately reflect the person’s contribution to the company’s success—not their charm, personality, looks or threats to leave.

Flickr image credit: Derek Keats

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Ducks in a Row: Open-book Management

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/carlcollins/69912897

Among today’s most popular buzzwords is ‘transparency’.

Transparency is one of the most important underpinnings of ‘authenticity’ and ‘trust’.

Corporations large and small trumpet the transparency of their dealings—except financial ones.

(Individuals, too; they will describe in detail their thoughts, attitudes and actions, even their sex lives, but freak when the subject is their money.)

But some bosses believe that financial transparency is not only possible, but can lay the groundwork for an extraordinary culture.

Financial transparency means not just sharing all the company financials with all its employees, but ensuring they have the skills to understand them by explaining and discussion them.

It’s called open-book management and was documented in “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham.

Mr. Stack and the managers bought the plant [International Harvester engine plant], renamed it Springfield ReManufacturing and turned it into a thriving collection of more than 30 businesses now known as SRC — thanks largely to an innovative strategy that came to be known as open-book management.

The basic rules are

  • Know and teach the rules: every employee should be given the measures of business success and taught to understand them
  • Follow the Action & Keep Score: Every employee should be expected and enabled to use their knowledge to improve performance
  • Provide a Stake in the Outcome: Every employee should have a direct stake in the company’s success-and in the risk of failure

Ari Weinzweig and co-founder Paul Saginaw wanted that kind of inclusive, engaged culture when they started their company and used open-book to anchor their growth.

Zingerman’s Delicatessen, a tiny sandwich shop near the university, into a group of nine businesses that, three decades later, has 650 employees, 18 managing partners and combined annual sales of $50 million.

That’s called success and has been recognized as such and emulated a la Tony Hsieh.

Wayne Baker, a professor in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, turned it into four case studies. Bo Burlingham featured Zingerman’s in a book called “Small Giants,” which is about companies that “choose to be great rather than big.” And the owners and employees of more than 1,000 companies have attended ZingTrain seminars to learn more about the Zingerman’s model.

While their approach is definitely a success, not everyone likes or wants the involvement.

Former staff members talk about the frustrations of having to placate difficult customers, as well as the stress of being “Zingy” throughout a long shift. “It is exhausting to work somewhere where you feel like you have to improve what you do constantly,” said one former worker at Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

Others love it.

Krystal Walls, who works in the mail-order business and has two children and a third on the way, said at the training session, “I have never worked anywhere where I was trusted or respected like this.”

When their little deli first succeeded they were offered substantial buyouts, as well as the opportunity to franchise, but none of those options allowed them to pursue their vision and make a difference. The company pays its people well and provides full health benefits.

“Employees who are stressed out financially, wondering how to pay for their kid’s allergy meds, or their rent or auto insurance, are not going to be able to do their job well,” said Mr. Saginaw, who has been lobbying in Washington for the last year for an increase in the minimum wage. “We’re comfortable with the notion that there’s such a thing as enough. Others may be wealthier than we’ll ever be, but I wonder if they’ve lost a certain amount of joy in their work.”

Flickr image credit: Carl Collins

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If the Shoe Fits: Finding the Cause of Turnover

Friday, May 30th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn the right frame of MAPping Company Success it says, “Have a quick question or just want to chat?” along with both email and phone number.

A few weeks ago a “John,” a founder, called me to see if I had any idea why his turnover was so high.  

In response to my questions he described his company’s culture, management style, product, etc.

I told him that assuming what he said was what was actually happening then something else was going on.

Since we are several thousand miles apart, we came up with the idea of using a stationary camcorder to tape the interactions; a “set it and forget it” approach to capture the norm and not performances.

A few days later he sent me a link to see the results.

I choked at the length, but it didn’t take that long to find what the likely problem was.

To see if my instinct was correct, I watched the entire nine hours on fast forward.

What I saw was that, almost without exception, during every interaction John had, whether with programmers or senior staff, he interrupted them to take calls or respond to texts.

We discussed the ramifications and effects of the constant interruptions and I asked him how he would feel if they had acted the same way.

He said it had happened to him and he usually felt annoyed, offended or both.

So I asked why they would feel any different.

John said that also explained why one senior developer said he preferred to work where he was shown some respect.

John had chalked it up to the developer’s age and that he couldn’t handle the casual atmosphere, but thinking back the guy had had a good relationship and no problems with the team.

I suggested that instead of saying anything he just change, i.e., pay attention and not interrupt, since actions speak louder than words.

I also sent him this image as a constant reminder.

John went further than changing; he called the most recent three who had left, apologized and said he would like them to come back.

One had already accepted a job, but the other two decided to give it another shot.

They both said that his candidness, honesty in recognizing the problem and sincere apology made it likely he would follow through.

Image credits: HikingArtist; via Imgfave

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What Everybody Wants

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/417190585

A LinkedIn post reminded me of something we all too often forget.

I’ve learned that the number one rule in sales is everybody wants what everybody wants and nobody wants what nobody wants. When you tell a buyer they can’t have something, they always want it more, but let that same customer know there’s plenty to go around and they’ll always go home to think about it.

It may be in the back of our minds, but we dance too much.

We spend time finding the fanciest or trendiest words to describe it.

Worse, we use ‘in’ words and industry-specific terms.

If the customer isn’t familiar with the language we choose she will spend her time puzzling out the meaning instead of buying.

Or she’ll just leave for a friendlier source.

Don’t get me wrong. Great stories that display the sexiness/romance/usefulness/value of your product or service are good—in their proper place.

But nothing projects authenticity, builds trust and creates urgency as perfectly as true clarity.

Flickr image credit: Alpha

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If the Shoe Fits: The Lean Startup’s Office Optional Conference

Friday, April 25th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYet again Sarah Milstein and her crew at Lean Startup have knocked it out of the ball park.  The first time I experienced it was at their Lean Startup Conference last year.  With the new Office Optional Conference, they have tapped into a motherload of issues that affect the Future of Knowledge Work and Workers.  Companies both large and small are struggling with attracting, growing, retaining and managing distributed teams, just like an increasing portion of the workforce is enticed by the ability to work from home (or anywhere).

I attended with Galina Landes who leads our engineering team, and one of the great experiences was to see how differently she and I experienced distributed work and strategies for improving what we’re doing.   But then, engineers have always had a more logical approach to most things than those of us working in management or other functions in a company.  Combining our perspectives and discussing strategies was interesting and very productive.

This conference on distributed teams dealt with collaboration, communication and the tools necessary for achieving goals as a team and creating a positive work environment.  I’ve personally struggled with this in my previous company and now as we are building a new one.   Our small team is fully distributed, although several of us are in the San Francisco Bay Area and can meet face to face when necessary.  But it’s still challenging to build a company culture, have good communication and trust without which we can’t achieve our strategic goals. 

Personally, I got a lot of ideas for tools and strategies to enhance our collaboration and communication.  In addition, many of the speakers spoke about the need to create an environment where “water cooler talk” and informal communication (and interruptions) was acceptable.  Just like in a normal office environment.  After all, we human beings are (mostly) social creatures and need to create bonds and trust with those with whom we work to achieve goals.

It was a pleasure to see that so many people from large organizations such as GE to small startups like EMANIO, and everything in-between, dealing with the issues around an increasingly distributed workforce.  In interacting with fellow participants, it was clear that we were all neophytes in the area and even those organizations that successfully had deployed a distributed model were still learning and adjusting their strategies and methods.  Office Optional was a great learning experience and I’d exhort anyone dealing with these issues to participate next time they put it on.  It was invaluable for us.

My only negative feedback would be that toward the latter part, the speakers became a bit repetitive.  However, for a first conference small issues like this should be expected and judging from my prior experience with the Lean Startup team the next one will excellent.

The day ended with a conversation between Eric Ries, who wrote The Lean Startup, and Stanford’s Bob Sutton, who penned the No Asshole Rule, and more recently, Scaling Up Excellence.  Though the conference would have been very good on its own, this was the crowning part of my experience.  Professor Sutton is an engaged and charismatic speaker with deep knowledge of how organizations work.  Excellence is what we’re all striving for and he provided a captivating roadmap for how to achieve it.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Authentic What?

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/54933689@N00/6896999591According to a blue ribbon group at Wharton, the secret of customer loyalty is in connecting on a deep level.

 “If you have been authentic, consumers will love you and share your brand” — Vanessa Rosado, global director of digital capabilities, AB InBev

Or you can be totally inauthentic, if you prefer, because many people won’t even notice.

Retweets. Likes. Favorites. Comments. Upvotes. Page views. You name it; they’re for sale on websites like Swenzy, Fiverr and countless others. 

Of course, if everybody demanded authenticity, instead of accepting cyber-stats as real, we would live in a much better world.

But they don’t.

Then there are the dozens of companies that hype their “community,” but have changed their legal terms so that any interaction with the brand, from buying it to ‘liking’ it eliminates the customer’s right to sue, whether for a perceived labeling error or life-threatening problem.

And then there is Google, who very publicly changed its TOS in response to a lawsuit over its email scanning.

Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.

When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.

While the wording is similar to other sites, Google’s services and their ubiquity aren’t.

It is these words, “upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services” that raise a giant red flag in my mind.

Google Docs is a service used by thousands of companies of all sizes for collaboration, both internally and with their vendors and customers.

They’re people upload and store designs, marketing plans, contracts, etc. to share and send.

According to its TOS, if Google so chooses it can share the details of those docs with anyone they please or publish them for general consumption.

Of course, everyone knows that Google does no evil and would never consider violating anyone’s privacy, but that old bottom line seems to require continual reinterpreting of both ‘evil’ and ‘privacy’.

The only thing I’m sure of is that the experience being provided by these companies are authentic.

The real question is, “authentic what?”

Flickr image credit: Dee Bamford

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Women @ Kimberly-Clark

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

kimberly-clark

Personally, I think the only thing dumber than expecting a twenty-something to design a product that resonates with Boomers (the people with money) is to have predominantly men leading, guiding and driving innovation for a corporation whose customer base is 83% female.

Yet, that is what was going on at Kimberly-Clark.

In fact, the situation was dire enough in 2009 that it even caught the eye of the board.

If they wanted to create better products targeted to female shoppers, executives realized, they had to transform into the kind of company that propelled women into higher positions instead of letting their careers stall.

With consultants’ assistance, the company did a wide-ranging survey of what was holding women back.

These ranged from concerns that promotions would lead to putting their families second to eradicating the “mommy track” stigma to the time to commute in China.

Kimberly has moved aggressively to address the roadblocks and has accomplished a great deal over the intervening five years.

By 2013, women at Kimberly-Clark made up 26% of the director-level or higher slots, up from 19% in 2009. Female representation on the board of directors also increased.

That was enough to win Catalyst Inc.’s top award for advancing women in the workplace.

Of course, the prime question is did it pay off in terms that Wall Street could understand?

At the end of 2009, the company’s stock price stood at $63.71. By the end of 2013, it had risen to $104.46.

‘Nuff said; money talks.

Flickr image credit: Kimberly-Clark

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Ducks in a Row: Ageism/Sexism—Cause and Effect

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/speedywithchicken/5842604404

As I wrote yesterday’s post, I had a personal epiphany regarding the cause and effect that has driven/is driving the escalation of ageism and sexism in the tech world.

I’m not saying I’m the first person to think of it, but I also haven’t seen or heard it put this simply.

It probably applies more to the tech world, because this is the first time in history that success—in the form of money, profile and influence—has come to a large number of people sans the experience that leads to maturity.

Moreover, many of them come from economically secure/elite backgrounds and are the children of the majority in control—mostly white and male.

What you have are thousands of boys in men’s bodies who suddenly have the financial ability to do what they want.

And what they want is to continue their frat boy life substituting work for school, but with the same partying, pranks, attitudes and immaturity of the collegiate fraternity boys they were.

It is a proven biological fact that males mature at a later age than females.

Generally speaking, 18-24-year-old males aren’t known for their sensitivity or respect, let alone any kind of deep thinking.

They are known for their insecurity, irresponsibility, partying, randy mindset, dismissal of everyone outside their small circle and generally oafish behavior.

So when they trade school for work, yet have the opportunity to do so without losing their previous mindset, why would you expect them to create an environment that was different from their college days?

Or want to invite people in and spend time around those who don’t share that mentality?

Flickr image credit: speedywithchicken

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