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Entrepreneurs: Working Smarter

Thursday, September 8th, 2016


Have you ever noticed that you have a conversation or meet someone with an unusual name and within a day the same subject/name keeps popping up?

Yesterday I wrote about working long hours for bragging rights, along with the resulting perils.

This morning I got up to find a great post from Steve Blank in my mailbox.

In Working Hard is not the same as working smart Blank talks about the fallacy of measuring effectiveness in the 21st Century based on hours worked.

In the 20th century we measured work done by the number of hours each employee logged. (…) This was perpetuated by managers and CEOs who had no other norms and never considered that managing this way was actually less effective than the alternatives.

Blank recommends three actions to start building a better measurement system than hours.

  • Define the output you want for the company getting input from each department/division
  • Define the output you want for each department
  • Ensure that the system does not create unintended consequences

You can get the details in the original post.

And I’ll add the following

  • Focus on the human side
    • Make sure you have full buy-in from all managers
    • Be sure your team understands completely
  • Monitor the human side and correct as necessary

Finally, never forget that excessive hours are the result of bad management and are unsustainable.

Image credit: Judit Klein

Workforce USA

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Were you shocked when you learned that the US didn’t make the top ten in healthcare, based on criteria of quality, access, efficiency, equity and healthy lives?

It’s fairly well accepted that the U.S. is the most expensive healthcare system in the world, but many continue to falsely assume that we pay more for healthcare because we get better health (or better health outcomes).

The top ten in order are United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Germany & Netherlands (tied), New Zealand & Norway (tied), France and Canada.

The US has long been the subject of global envy for the financial strength of our middle class, but no more.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

What does this mean for those who graduated into the 2008 financial meltdown, one in five of whom have moved back with their parents?

And while much of the discussion about economic inequality has centered on the top 1 percent, it’s the gap between the top 20 percent and the rest that’s more salient to young people. (…) This uncomfortable fact, which many economists have recently accepted, suggests that we are living not simply in an unequal society but rather in two separate, side-by-side economies.

But cheer up; you only have to be in the 95th percentile, not the 1%, to be back among the envied.

How can that be? What about all the jobs created by companies such as Google and Facebook?

It’s easy to understand if you consider what the fastest growing jobs in the US are.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

As to American inventiveness and the much ballyhooed entrepreneurial spirit so richly displayed by a few Millennials, consider which actually is the most innovative country in the world.

Germany does a better job on innovation in areas as diverse as sustainable energy systems, molecular biotech, lasers, and experimental software engineering. (…)  But the fairy tale that the U.S. is better at radical innovation than other countries has been shown in repeated studies to be untrue. Germany is just as good as the U.S. in the most radical technologies.

What’s more important, Germany is better at adapting inventions to industry and spreading them throughout the business sector. Much German innovation involves infusing old products and processes with new ideas and capabilities or recombining elements of old, stagnant sectors into new, vibrant ones.

Perhaps it’s time for us—business leaders, religious leaders, politicians of all flavors and just plain folks—to take our collective heads out of the sand and do what it takes to turn things around.

Image credit: BLS

Quotable Quotes: Work

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

1078874_word_work_on_the_dicesWork; everyone works, one way or another, paid or not.

Some people work hard, while some hardly work; or as Sam Ewing said, “Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.”

According to Pearl Buck work is good for your health—at least is if you like it, “To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.”

Teddy Roosevelt offered yet another view of why on the value of work, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Most successful people will tell you that if you do what you love the money will follow, but not everybody believes that.

I have a kind of mantra that I share with clients, ‘People who join you for money will leave for more money.’ Henry David Thoreau said something similar long before, “Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.”

Joseph Campbell had another insight to the person who is only in it for the money, “I think the person who takes a job in order to live – that is to say, for the money – has turned himself into a slave.”

But even when we love our work we all like a pat on the back and having our work appreciated, but rather than trying to force the acknowledgment take a tip from Henry J. Kaiser, “When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.”

Finally, it’s Stevie Wonder who sums it all up perfectly, “Ya gots to work with what you gots to work with.”

stock.xchng image credit: hisks

Quotable Quotes: Walter Bagehot

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

150 years ago Walter Bagehot focus probably wasn’t on entrepreneurs, but that just goes to show that wise thoughts may have multiple applications.

To start with, Bagehot’s take on what work really is should resonate, “The real essence of work is concentrated energy,” especially with entrepreneurs.

“Anyone can start a company” is today’s mantra, but it’s also true that “No great work has ever been produced except after a long interval of still and musing meditation.” Notice that he says, ‘great’.

However, at some point thought needs to become action because, “What impresses men is not mind, but the result of mind.”

Ever wonder why people are willing to put up with 100 hours weeks and financial deprivation to follow a dream? Bagehot sums it up perfectly, “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”

A common idea that runs throughout all history it that “One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea.”

Long before the advent of focus groups and experts telling entrepreneurs to get out of their office and talk to people Bagehot pinned down the result of not listening to your market, as well as why some people don’t, “The habit of common and continuous speech is a symptom of mental deficiency. It proceeds from not knowing what is going on in other people’s minds.”

Finally, for all of us who truly love what we do, in spite of what other think, “Business is really more agreeable than pleasure; it interests the whole mind … more deeply. But it does not look as if it did.”

Image credit: Wikipedia

Wordless Wednesday: Principles Of Work

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

principles-of-workDo you always do your best work

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Image credit: Alex Osterwalder on flickr

Wordless Wednesday: Always Do Your Best Work

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009


Click to see principles that help you do it

Image credit: kadavoor on flickr

Barrett’s Briefing: Back To The Future

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

The world is changing. We are witnessing the de-industrialization of America. As a consequence, home and work life are blending together again and the means of production are moving back to the home. Sound like the medieval era? You bet.

The Industrial Revolution

The printing press, invented by Gutenberg circa 1440, helped to introduce the Renaissance and end the Medieval era. The printing press sped the transmission of knowledge, planting the seeds for the Industrial Revolution about three hundred years later.

But even though the printing press created a flood of knowledge, it did not affect the daily nature of work. Family life and work life occurred in the same place—the home. The loom occupied a central place in the home. For carpenters, potters, and other craftsmen, the home was also the workshop. Workers (back then they were peasants) lived with their personal means of production—knowledge, skill, and their own personal production tools.

Since the beginning of recorded history work and family were largely inseparable within the house—then came the Industrial Revolution.

With the advent of mechanical production equipment (ironically, some of the earliest were mechanical weaving looms) the Industrial Revolution (circa. 1750-1850) centralized the means of production around the production equipment, and later around the power source which drove the production equipment. Within a few years craftsmen and laborers began to commute to the local factory.

The factory lowered production costs and eventually improved living standards for everyone. But its immediate impact was putting some workers out of work and inflicting further indignities on others.

Centralized production dictated fragmentation of work. Just like the mechanical devices, laborers became cogs in the factory wheel, doing small, repetitive, de-humanizing tasks.

Mechanization intensified throughout the 1900’s, leading to the famous “lights out” factories in Japan, which could operate in the dark without any human intervention. Workers migrated away from factories and into offices.

The Information Revolution—De-Industrialization

Initially, the information revolution (circa. 1950) appeared to be an extension of the Industrial Revolution. Manufacturing jobs peaked (as a percent of all jobs) at 30% in the 1950’s. Then workers began to shift from factories to offices.

At first the new information work itself remained fragmented and repetitive, just like the old factory jobs. Computers and communications, the means of production for information work, were large, centralized, and expensive, just like the old factory equipment.

In the 1980’s the PC and the internet started to weaken the chains of office workers. The de-industrialization of America picked up steam.

Back to the Future – Working from Home

The peasants of the new century are knowledge workers. With an internet connection and a laptop computer they typically work from home. Some remain as employees, but an increasing percentage work as independent contractors paid by the job, just as medieval craftspeople did. Job satisfaction may be better, but job security has plummeted.

This information revolution is only now working through the economy.

The industrial revolution changed the face of America and the nature of work. The information revolution is changing us.

The Biggest Unknown—The Power of Human Creativity

As Mark Twain said, “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” The Renaissance unleashed a tremendous wave of knowledge and human creativity that reshaped the world. However the Renaissance was only a small foretaste of the coming explosion of creativity and knowledge from the Information Revolution.

It will reshape everything, even our bodies and our minds. A little frightening perhaps, but what an exciting time to be alive.

Barrett’s Briefing: Radical Economic Change

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Economic pundits, eagerly searching for signs of the recovery, are grasping at almost anything. “The rate of decline has slowed.” “Unemployment has stabilized.” “The cardboard box index has bottomed out.” And the shape of the recession and recovery has been predicted to be a V,  W,  L, or even a double-bounce W.

I think they’re all wrong.

The old economy will never come back.

This economic meltdown is much like a forest fire. After the fire burns itself out, the storm may be over, but the burn area is fundamentally changed. It does not “bounce back.” It starts at a different place.  Sometime in 2010, the economy will stabilize, but it will not “come back.” We will go forward from a fundamentally different position. This new starting point will reflect the impact of deep, long-term, global trends in the nature of work, the value of the dollar, and our relationship to our government. The current recession is a convenient marker to recognize these trends.

Work Is Changing

The nature of employment will continue to change. The United States will continue to shift to a “just-in-time,” service-based workforce. The manufacturing sector will continue its decline, from 29% of GDP in 1950 to 15% in 2000 (see analysis by Dr. Mankiw). It will drop below 10% by 2010. You can construct your own labor trend at indeed.com. ( This website is a fascinating example of the business of data, which we discussed in the last three posts.)

Many new service-sector workers will be involuntary. Growing unemployment and under-employment in the United States (which will exceed 15% this year) is driving many people into self-employment as service workers. An analysis of Japan’s Lost Decade by Tom Coyner, long-time resident of Japan and Korea, provides one instructive example of this phenomenon, and some associated risks.

These new service sector workers will be driven to a “do-it-yourself” model for almost everything. They will have to provide their own health care plan, retirement plan, office arrangement, and business planning. Many of these workers will be home-based, with little differentiation. The most common product/pricing model will be piecework, with unit pricing based on the alternative of being completely idle. Ironically, one result will be the re-integration of work and home life.

Entrepreneurship is Changing

Investment capital will no longer be available for any but the most solid businesses; and the vast majority of these newly-independent service workers do not have plans to build large businesses. As a result, the successful ones will exhibit four common, positive characteristics:

Local—In a global world, being present still counts. A local service provider who can show up in person has a distinct advantage. In addition, some services simply cannot be outsourced. When your car is broken or your roof leaks, you need a local service person. For locally-based services we may see an increase in a local, personal relationship with service providers.

Immediate—Without investment capital to fund long-term research and development, independent service-providers and small businesses must focus on services that provide immediate value. The “cash-to-cash” cycle must be less than one pay period. Fortunately, credit/debit cards and other immediate payment methods support this trend.

Information-based—Information will provide significant improvements in service quality and competitive differentiation. For instance, simply finding a customer is difficult and expensive. Irritating prospects with unnecessary and unwanted sales promotions is also costly. Successful service providers will use information to target customers on a “just-as-needed” basis.

Green—Setting aside the discussion of whether the earth is warming or whether green is good, government policies will reward green activities preferentially. Independent service providers will offer green services or enhance green aspects of their existing services.

Start-Ups Will Explode in Unlikely Niches

The availability of many talented people and the flexibility of independent service providers will fuel new start-ups. While these may not completely replace the loss of investment capital, they will certainly provide an alternative path of low-cost labor for new businesses. The change may be refreshing, for us individually, and for our economy.

This is perhaps the greatest unknown—how much will individual creativity and inspiration replace financial engineering.

I am hoping for a few delightful surprises ahead.

Labor Day thoughts

Monday, September 1st, 2008

party.jpgI may feel that yesterday was New Year’s, but today is Labor Day—summer’s over, school’s starting, the leaves are turning and the year is nearly done.

Toil slows time, but the years fly by when you’re having fun.

It’s said that if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life—having fun instead.

Are you having fun yet?

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