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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: Does the Description Fit Your Startup?

Friday, August 1st, 2014

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 entrepreneurs since the 1980s.

Sadly, the mindset has changed significantly—and not for the better.

I’m not the only one who feels that way.

German designer Hartmut Esslinger, who met Steve Jobs in 1982 and told him “Apple’s products were incredibly ugly and wasteful in production,” puts it this way.

“There is a bubble where greed meets hype and fake: Too many want to get rich instead of doing something meaningful for mankind, something for progress, to improve life.”

“Greed meets hype and fake;” what a perfect description of so many apps with billion-plus valuations.

The question you need to ask yourself is, “does it fit mine?”

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Ducks in a Row: It’s About Culture, Stupid

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mklingo/2946190118/

Lou Gerstner (IBM) says it best, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

Dick Clark (Merk), Rex Tillerson (ExxonMobil), Robert Iger (Disney) and Steve Jobs (Pixar) all agree, as do a host of other bosses.

There’s no getting around it—everything comes down to culture.

The millions of dollars spent developing strategy provide no value unless the strategy is implemented.

“I wouldn’t say that their strategies are useless, but if they added a separate ‘people’ process on the strategy process they would be a lot more effective.” That process is execution, which many consultants and academics have largely ignored because it is seen as merely tedious detail.

Culture embodies more than a company’s values; it embodies the company’s ability to execute.

Too many bosses treat building culture also as tedious detail—exciting to visualize and discuss, but procrastinating the hard work required to create and sustain it.

Bosses who ignore the tedious details jeopardize their careers and put their companies at risk.

Flickr image credit: Max Klingensmith

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Ducks in a Row: Once Again Old is New

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/haerold/443213004/

I find it amusing how frequently I read something that is presented as totally new when, in fact, it was done decade(s) previously.

In this case, it was the agreement not to poach each others engineers, supposedly masterminded by Steve Jobs.

Just how far Silicon Valley will go to remove such risks is at the heart of a class-action lawsuit that accuses industry executives of agreeing between 2005 and 2009 not to poach one another’s employees.

The last time I remember this happening was in the late Seventies/early Eighties by the HR organizations in a group of semiconductor firms, including National Semiconductor, AMD and Intel, among others I can’t remember.

The story was broken by a gossipy semiconductor-focused newsletter to which everyone in the Valley subscribed, shared and denied reading. (Sadly, I can’t remember the name, although it was published by an individual who lived near Santa Cruz.)

Word was that being caught reading the newsletter could get you fired.

When the information surfaced it was the EEOC that fined the companies involved.

It was a stupid corporate move then and just as stupid now, but back then the workers affected didn’t do anything; how times have changed.

Flickr image credit: Harold Heindell Tejada

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 Entrepreneurs: You and Henry Ford

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Henry_ford_1919When you think about great entrepreneurs who comes to mind?

Not Steve Jobs if you limit entrepreneurs to those who invent something brand new; he didn’t invent technology; he took what was there, infused it with brilliant design and then convinced us we couldn’t live without it.

Bill Gates? Larry Page and Sergey Brin? Larry Ellison? Mark Zukerberg?

But could you build a powerful company culture off just their quotes 100 years from now?

Actually, will entrepreneurs even remember them in the Twenty-second Century?

But a century later you can do it off of Henry Ford quotes and it would be not only sustainable, but socially responsible.

Consider this small sample

  • There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible. Ford practiced what he preached, too.
  • Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right. This may be true for all of us, but it is especially true for entrepreneurs.
  • Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. Overseeing each of these stages is a perfect description of a founder’s primary responsibility.
  • Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. This isn’t to say that you should be blind to them, but keeping your focus on the goal allows you to overcome them by not losing track of what’s really important.
  • A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large. Tony Hsieh has proved this in spades, as has Jeff Bezos. The difference is that Hsieh also practices the first principle above; while Bezos has ignored it.
  • Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. The first half of the sentence has been proven over and over, but it is the second half that determines whether the effort is successful.

Parts of Ford make a great role model, while other parts should be treated as poison, which, in the long-run, merely proves Ford mortal.

(Find more Ford quotes here.)

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Entrepreneurs: the Truth about Yelling

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Entrepreneurs: the Truth about YellingAn AlwaysOn post explaining How to Get Yelled AT caught my attention and should catch yours.

Verbally it had the typical male orientation, but there is plenty for women who are just as likely to be alpha males as guys, so ignore the gender stuff.

Supposedly, those who yell in the military and sports do so because they care, which is true only when the words yelled aren’t abusive (as they so recently have been).

Outside of those two areas, with the caveat mentioned, I don’t believe there is any reason to yell, since yelling rarely accomplishes anything positive.

This is especially true when bosses are yelling at staff (or parents at kids).

Often when I call startup bosses for yelling at their people they respond by saying something to the effect that if it was good enough for Steve Jobs it’s good enough for them—forgetting that from a management prospective Jobs is a lousy role model.

Generally, yelling is the fastest way to make sure that folks tune out and disengage.

So what do you do when something happens and you are justifiably angry?

Use the process I described way back in 2006; a lot may have changed, but it still works.

Flickr image credit: AlishaV

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Entrepreneurs: Choose Your Type

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6869768383/

Do you read Agnes? A few days ago she asked her friend if she was superstitious; when her friend said not often Agnes told her she was sortofstitious. Agnes then made an over-the-top superstitious comment and her friend said she was megastitious.

The wordplay got me thinking.

In reality, most entrepreneurs are superpreneurs or they won’t make any headway.

Then there are the megapreneurs who manage to innovate, create successful companies and then do it again (think Tony Hsieh) or stay in the same place and keep innovating (think Steve Jobs, the Google Guys or Intuit’s Scott Cook).

However, there are still plenty of sortofpreneurs, who create me-too businesses (think daily deals), that stand little chance of success (although they often get funding), instead of real innovation.

They have may have the passion of a superpreneur, but in their rush to riches they want to skate—not innovate, i.e.,

  • not solve a problem that needs solving or create something that nobody even knows they want;
  • not provide real value to stakeholders; and
  • not create an entity that provides jobs and futures to its people.

It’s not that sortofpreneurs can’t become superpreneurs, but to do so they need to give up (relatively) instant gratification and be willing to both slog and pivot as necessary.

A tall order for someone who is in it for the money.

Flickr image credit: 401(K) 2013

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If the Shoe Fits: The Real World

Friday, January 18th, 2013

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYet again, the startup world is changing.

I’ve watched it morph many times over the last 30 years, but what I find different this time is what I can only call entrepreneurial stupidity—a combination of arrogance, myopia and ignorance.

I don’t think it’s too widespread, but when you come head-to-head with it it tends to bring you up short.

“Jaime,” an entrepreneur with whom I, who has a B2B subscription startup, attended an event that had entrepreneurs presenting to investors.

He was highly offended because one of the presenters was looking for investment to start a winery.

Jaime said that a winery was a business, not a startup, nor was it scalable; when I disagreed he quoted Steve Blank to me, “a startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

First of all, in the post, Steve says, this is “a new definition of why startups exist” and as to the scalable part, someone had better tell Naked Wines and its portfolio of startup wineries that they aren’t scalable.

It reminded me of a young woman I spoke with in 2000 when I was still a headhunter.

We were talking about startups and I said something to the effect that I’d been working with startups since the Seventies; she disgustedly informed me that startups were a function of the Internet.

I guess someone forgot to tell Hewlett and Packard, Steve Jobs and dozens of others, and, more recently, Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry, the two guys who started $100 million, 100 employee Method cleaning products,  that their companies weren’t startups.

The lesson here is that while some startups may go where no person has gone before, most will leverage the existing adding tweaks and new twists to add value.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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If the Shoe Fits: Drinking Your Own Kool-Aid

Friday, January 4th, 2013

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFounders are known for the passion and drive that turns their vision into reality. While many are known for their technical brilliance or marketing expertise few are known for their management skill.

Many harbor a secret dream of being hailed as the next Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Anna Wintour, Barry Diller or Martha Stewart.

If those names impress you then consider that they all are in Forbes Bully Bosses Hall of Fame (personally, I’d have included Jack Welch).

“At some point, those we consider ‘visionaries’ become puffed-up creations of their own imagination. When business executives stop looking beyond quarterly reports and stockholder dividends, they start ignoring internal stakeholders. We’re seeing that unravel now.” –Gary Namie, management consultant

American tolerance for bullying leaders may be waning.

In four decades I never spoke with anyone who liked being bullied and have watched tolerance for it slowly seep away.

There has been a real sea change in what’s conceptualized as good leadership. Americans have become disenchanted with power. Almost daily, they watch as leaders–in government, in business–fail to exercise appropriate restraint.” –Roderick Kramer, Stanford Business School professor.

These days people vote with their feet; the question is not ‘should I leave’, but ‘how soon can I leave’.

The focus is how quickly someone can find a position that combines personal satisfaction with the ability to take care of their responsibilities.

Good management/leadership isn’t just about killer visions.

It’s about enabling growth by building up and never tearing down either the people or the enterprise for which you are responsible.

In short, take care of your people; without them there is no company.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Expand Your Mind: 12 Greatest Modern Entrepreneurs

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I linked to stories about great women entrepreneurs. Today we’ll look at the guys.

A contributor at Fortune created a list of what he considers the 12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time.

They are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Fred Smith, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Howard Schultz, Mark Zukerberg, John Mackey, Herb Kelleher, Narayana Murthy, Sam Walton, Muhammad Yunus

These founders created and then nurtured healthy, sustainable organizations that now have a combined market value of more than $1.7 trillion. They directly employ more than 3 million people…

Each of their companies sits at the nucleus of a thriving ecosystem that has cultivated and nurtured dozens if not hundreds of other enterprises.

There is a short profile of each at the link; considering it’s a kind of holiday weekend that’s enough reading.

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

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