Friday, May 16, 2014

A Cough

Want to be "superhorse", California Chrome, has a "cough".  As he prepares for the second leg of the Triple Crown tomorrow in The Preakness Stakes, everyone is talking about the coughs that he had as he came off the racetrack yesterday after training.

It's clear, no one likes to hear a cough in a racehorse, in a person, or in a company.  A cough signifies nothing but bad to come. Sometimes, it's nothing and a little tickle in the throat passes, but when we hear a cough, we begin to worry and even step aside to not catch the cold ourselves.  Last year, while traveling in Costa Rica, one of the locals told me that when America coughs, Latin America gets pneumonia. 

No one likes a cough and more often than not those coughs that we see in the market, or with a company, or in a team are the beginning of something and shouldn't be ignored. 

How many times have we heard the cough, ignored it and and then later kicked ourselves for not seeing what later were so obvious signs?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Chefs or Short-Order Cooks?

For most things at work, or in life, we can approach things in one of two ways: as a Chef, or as a Short-Order Cook. 

A Short-Order Cook takes orders and fulfills the assignment just as it is given to them.  They operate quickly, efficiently and can be counted on to deliver on time.  A Chef sees things differently, always considering options and other ways to achieve the order.  Creativity trumps efficiency sometimes and there is an anxious anticipation of the customer of what might arrive.  Because of this, a Chef gets a little more time and more leeway than the Short-Order Cook.  The similarity is that both know their customer.  For the Short-Order Cook; it's the waitress/waiter who is standing at the hot table waiting.  For the Chef, the wait staff are just a delivery vehicle to their ultimate customer; the diner. 

Seldom does someone ask the Short-Order Cook to come out and meet the table to receive their lauds.  But, also seldom does someone applaud the Chef who makes the table wait too long for their food.  The balance is tricky and it all gets messed up when someone tries to take the opposite role when to everyone else it is pretty clear what is expected. 

Which are you? 

Which does your company reward and recognize? 

Is your organization in balance with the right amount of Chefs and the right amount of Short-Order Cooks?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Anyone who has ever sold or marketed into an enterprise (company) big or medium sized fears one thing; losing their internal champion/supporter. A ton of work can go into landing a deal only to learn that the person internally who was leading the acceptance of your product/service is being moved into another job or leaving the company.  Where does that leave you?  Starting all over, unfortunately. So, the best approach is to ensure that you are "3-Deep" in every account.  That means, three people who are below the champion who also support the product so that is she/he moves on, you aren't caught with no one knowing who you are.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

We Have Just Returned...

"(Fill in name of Company) is buzzing with all the units we have in the office, and thanks to our trip to China last week, we have even more on the way. Here’s a quick update on the trip and the product.
Our co-founders, (Fill in Name (CEO)), (Fill in name) (CTO)), and (Fill in Name (Design Director)), returned last week from a great trip to China where they met with our manufacturer and reviewed the new hardware design. We saw some major improvements and are happy with the progress they’ve made. We’re finalizing the layout now, and the factory is getting ready to produce our updated hardware design en masse. That will start with (Fill in number) units for the beginning of (Fill in Month)."
This is a message that I get some version of once a month from someone who is entering the hardware business with a hot and highly anticipated hardware/software enabled product.
It's always a trip to China, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc.
I'm waiting for the first hot product that sends their update that says, "We just
returned last week from a great trip to (Fill in a state in the U.S.) where we met with our manufacturer and reviewed the new hardware design."
That's the one I will immediately want to buy!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Understandable People: A Tribute to Dr. Gary Becker (1931-2014)

I'm going to be honest and a little vulnerable here today.  I need to let you know that one of the reasons I try and write this blog in common sense and practical terms is that I can't myself understand or comprehend much more than that. 

On a plane the other day someone had left a copy of The Economist.  That is one of the magazines that I know I should be able to read and enjoy, but I just can't.  Half the time I don't understand what they are trying to say and the depth and understanding of the economics behind the stories are usually over my pay grade. 

This is why I was so sorry to hear that Gary Becker died this last Saturday.  Some may not know him, but I felt like I did.  Professor Becker was a Nobel Prize winning economist, but more important for me, he was an economist who I could understand.  When he wrote for Business Week, I would read his every word and walk away with something that I could not only relate, but also apply in my thinking and actions. 

Our world is a complex one and we need more people, like Dr. Gary Becker, who can boil it down so that most of us can use our common sense to understand.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

When the Bucks Stops Here!

As leaders, managers, or in today’s world, even those who work someplace where we have influence over decisions that are made that could affect others, we need to be careful and constructive in those decisions.  We seldom see examples of leaders who step up when things go wrong.  Some will do it and admit that the buck stops with them, but they won’t accept the full responsibility, which many times would lead to a resignation or some other type of repercussion.  Last week we saw a leader do so though when South Korean Prime Minister, Chung Hong-won, resigned after the failed rescue of the ferry that capsized. I found this interestingly juxtaposed with the firing of a number of the GM senior execs, but not the CEO.  I know, she is new, but remember, she was on the senior team and has been with the company for 34 years. I’m not saying that she should have been fired, but when the buck stops, it must stop somewhere and the best of the best leaders know it stops with them. 

Anything short of that, can feel like lip service to leadership.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thinking Before We Speak

As we are learning in the world of sports, there are consequences to word and actions.  When we are part of a larger organization, those consequences can reach far and wide and hurt many people. 

We usually don't know how broadly, until it happens. 

But, we can still think ahead and imagine the consequences before we act or speak. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hunters and Farmers

Sales organizations are getting smarter in how they organize.  Well, actually, most have always organized in the manner that is most successful but today they are getting better at giving the organizations names that better describe what they do. Back in the day you had "New Account Teams" and you had "Existing Account Teams".  Now, we have "Hunters and Farmers". 

Hunters bring in new business.  Farmers expand the growth.  Subtle, but big differences in the type of people to do these jobs and their responsibilities. 

Some times just getting better at describing what someone does can make the difference in hiring and assigning the right person to the job.

Friday, April 25, 2014


There is a new book out by Nikil Saval, called "Cubed".  I have not read it yet, but have read the reviews of it and I will be picking it up soon.  What Saval does in his book is give us the history of our current workplaces covering things like the drop ceiling, lighting, filing spaces, open door policies and yes, the "Cubicle". My total time working in corporations was 21 years.  Of those 21 years, as best as I can add up, I spent eight years in a Cube and two and a half years working in an open floor space. So, almost half, not in an office.

The best of all of those years (including a couple of years in offices that were well beyond nice and totally not necessary), were the years in the open floor plan where there were no walls and I was out in the open with everyone else.  I learned new forms of boundaries (headphones on meant I was busy), shorter phone calls, discretion of conversation (loudness and content) and time management (there wasn't any hanging around with the feet on the desk shooting the breeze).

Where we sit can make a difference in how we work.  Where we assign others to work, can make a difference in their productivity and motivation. Part of what we are to do, if we want to be good leaders and managers, is to be cognizant and sensitive to the environment that we ask people to work.

If you have people begging to work at home, you might want to ask yourself if that cubicle might be part of their motivation.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Breaking the Tape First!

This is not a sports blog, but I can't resist.  Yesterday, something amazing happened in the sports world and it couldn't have happened at a better time, a better place, or to a better athlete.  Yesterday, on April 21st, 2014, marathon athlete Meb Keflezighi, at 38 years old, won the Boston Marathon and became the first American winner in 31 years.  Why was this victory so sweet?  Sure, it was because he won on the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings.  Yes, it was great that he is an old guy as 38 is over the hill for marathoners.  And for sure, the American win is not the norm. But, his win was more than that.  I happen to serve on the board of runcoach with Meb and I have heard him talk of overcoming injuries and working his way back to his top form.  Marathoners are much like we are in business.  We get a couple of great moments a year and the rest of the time we are up early, logging the hours of training and doing our best to balance the rest of life, fueling ourselves for the next bit of competition.  And when we start to feel the pains and hurt, it takes time to get over them.  We'd be well served to bask in the win of Meb yesterday and remind ourselves that winning only comes because we put in the hard work, understand what it takes to win when we need to, and shut out the rest that keeps us from getting to our peak form.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


A friend's child didn't get the summer job that was expected. It was the first time in a short life that a rejection that couldn't be changed happened.  Shock and awe, along with lots of questioning ensued. I was not surprised as we have a generation plus now who don't know what it means to not play on the team or to not be able to do things over until they reach satisfaction.  It seems that now, everyone, regardless if the team wins or loses, gets to get out on the field or court and play.  In videogames we let you start over and over and nothing really ended, or died...until now.  Games are making the turn to what is called "Permadeath".  That means that once the character or figure dies, they don't come back.  I remember this being experimented with in the late 90's only to receive outrage from customers who claimed that they had the right to bring the character back over and over. Who is to know what is best, but I don't see that much harm in teaching the next generation that loss and rejection are real and that we need to learn the lesson early, not wait until employers and business have to be the first to hand out the word, "no".

Monday, April 7, 2014

Always Open for Business!

Patti and I rushed on Saturday to get to an art gallery/framing store before its 5:30pm closing time.  We arrived at 5:24pm and they closed early.  We were bummed.  I looked at the "Closed" sign in the window and thought, "What an antiquated way to run a business".  We've all had the experience of cupping our hands to our eyes and staring into a plate glass window to see what is on the other side in a darkened store, knowing that we won't probably every be able to come back during their open hours.  We miss out and a retailer misses out.  But, that is about to change, or at least I think it will soon.  

My friend Jason Johnson is working hard on his new digital door lock, August Smart Lock. I imagine that in the not too near future, we will be able to walk up to a physically closed retail store and because we carry a trusted digital ID on our iphone (kind of like TSA Pre for retailers), we will be able to digitally open the front door of the retail store.  As we do, the lights come on, a motion activated set of cameras begin recording, and a motion activated voice recording welcomes us into the store and gives us directions on how to scan and pay for what we buy using our digital wallets.  The voice probably asks us politely to turn off the lights before we leave, digitally locking the door behind us.  

Are we possibly entering the age of "Always Open for Business"?  

I think so!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Going Out On The Limb

Sometimes to get the recognition and notoriety that our brand or service requires, we have to be willing to go out on the limb to get people to take notice.  Whether or not this is smart or not, we find out when the limb holds us and causes others to look up, or the limb breaks and we fall. 

We are in the age of being able to crawl out further and further because of the support of low cost technology and infrastructure support.  We can try small things, at low cost and if they work, continue them.  If they don't, then discontinue and look to the next idea. 

Google and Amazon are the leaders in this.  It seems every month, they each offer something new and they climb a little further out on the limb.  Not all of their moves work, but lots do.  Their latest moves?  Google:  Google Express Shopping.  Amazon: Kindle Fire Streaming device.  We are looking up to both of these to see where they lead us next. 

What are you offering that has you inching out further on the limb?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Voice Recognition

If you have taken to using the voice options on your phone to dictate texts and emails, you know that the translation is not quite perfect, but so far better than it was just a year ago, that before long, with another generation of voice recognition advancements, and a little user interface improvement, that thumbing our way through typo galore filled  messages is about to become a thing of the past. 

What will this mean for all of us?  Good and bad likely.  Good in that I have noticed that when I speak a message that my thoughts are more fully formed and the messages tend to be longer.  A return to long form communication?  Maybe.  Bad in that it becomes even easier to blow off steam and say something that is now written that you wish you hadn't said. We are on record forever now with everything we write, record, photograph, or video.  That's not all bad, but it all has implications.  

I grew up learning how to write sentences and then how to put those sentences into paragraphs and later, how to put them into full thoughts to achieve a purpose.  But, seldom were we taught on how to "communicate".  No one taught in school how to have a productive phone call, or how to discuss something that is difficult over dinner. 

It may be time to begin thinking about teaching our employees how to communicate, especially as it relates to how to translate our thoughts into messages that are productive, effective and good.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Implied Free

It used to be that if you wanted to access the internet in an airport that you had to pay for it through services like Boingo, or T-Mobile, AT&T, etc.  You can still pay for that internet access if you want, or you can access it through what I call, "Implied Free".  Implied free is telling the consumer that something is free, but it isn't really.  In the case of airport internet access, you watch an ad and then you get a half-hour or so, and then you can watch the same ad again, and get another half hour or so. And on and on it goes. It seems free, but it's not because we have taken our time to look at the ad and distract ourselves from doing something else. What is the cost to us? It's the cost of what we could/would be doing otherwise.  "Implied free" is not new.  Broadcast media was built this way and we now see the same for the "implied free" of ad supported streaming entertainment services.  We are just a moment away from walking into a coffee shop and receiving what appears to be an "implied free" cup of coffee, but we will have to show that we watched the ad, tweeted or create a Facebook status about being in the store and trying the coffee.  I personally don't mind "implied free". It feels active and full of choices.  If we can find the goodness in the approach, there is much we can do and have our consumers and customers join in to help.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The "Work Market" and "BYOW"

I was asked the other day why I invest and put my time and money where I do?  I told this person that I subscribe to the theory that you can be the person who makes big changes to big things or make little changes to big things that add up to a big change, but it's kind of silly to fool around with anything that only addresses small things.

This is why I am fascinated with the size of the "Work Market".  Nearly everyone works, will work, or has worked and while we go up and down economically, this premise won't change.  And up until now, the "Work Market" has been approached only on the "enterprise level" bringing tools, processes and programs to the employer, the ones who create the work and hire the worker.  And until now, the only outside of the office support or help a worker could get to make them better was what they could find at the local bookstore.

But the world has changed.  Today, the "Work Market" is open for those who are doing the work.  I first felt the shift when the guys in Austin at 37 Signals created a collaborative project management software called "Basecamp".  Companies were slow to offer project management tools and when they did they were heavyweight, clunky and one-size fit all, like Microsoft Project.  Workers who couldn't and wouldn't wait started sourcing their own tools and were using Basecamp, inside the firewall, on either their own credit card, or expensing it monthly as a nominal fee.  Box and DropBox have grown in the same way.  We now have "BYOD", bring your own devices to work.  This week I will talk to a group of top HR Leaders that we are now in the "BYOW" era..."Bring Your Own Way" to get these things done.

Every company and their employees are now an open "Work Market" platform that we can build work, productivity, data, prediction, reporting, trending, and whatever else we can think of applications.

Mark Newman, the Founder and CEO of HireVue (one of the HCM companies where I sit on the Board) estimates that there are a billion interviews done a year in the United States. He's probably wrong in that is a low number.  Consider just that number as the number of (as Mark likes to call them) "interactions" that are available to capture, improve and provide tools and support. Interviews are a perfect example of BYOW as everyone does an interview in a way that is easy and best for them.  But, that haphazard approach is also a part of the problem in why that part of the "Work Market" always feels so broken.

BYOW is not going to stop. The "Work Market" is not shrinking.  Who will be the ones to capture the needs and the wants of those who work and those who create and fund the work?

If you are looking for a big market fraught with lots of problems to solve, then look no further than right here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Investing In Home

I was back at Purdue (my alma mater) this week. On Wednesday, General Electric announced a partnership with Purdue around advanced manufacturing practices and technology, and that GE would be building a new jet engine manufacturing plant in the Greater Lafayette, Indiana area.  It was a big deal for Purdue and the community.  In the same week I read that BMW is investing and expanding in South Carolina and Ford is doing the same in the Midwest.  It's a good sign to see multinationals investing in the U.S..  We still have a ways to go as Shenzen, China claims now to be the largest manufacturing location for smartphones.  I predict that might change over time as well.  It's not an easy decision to invest at home.  It can be more expensive and the regulations around the environment, safety and labor can add to that cost, but once the plunge is taken, the reduced complexity of time, travel and cultures, can win the day. At least an honest discussion about the tradeoffs looks to be being held with certain segments of our economy. Here's to more and more of those decisions landing back to home.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Closer Than They Appear

Success and failure share a trait; they both, like the images in the right-hand side mirror of our cars, can seem closer than they really are.  Success can feel close, but might still be a ways away so we have to stick with it, don't take our foot off the gas, and don't assume that we can change course before we achieve the success that we are trying to achieve.  Failure, on the other hand, can feel so close that we start to get fearful and paralyzed of what might happen next, when we are still far from failing.  The truth is that success and failure are located just about the same distance away from where we are.  We can't over anticipate either nor overreact to what we encounter along the way.  I have seen too many people who make decisions based on not accurately knowing where they are on the road to either success or failure.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Greener Grass?

A former colleague of mine is up for a big promotion. It's the job he has waited for his entire career and if he gets it then he is at the top of his functional area and the years of working hard within the company will have been worth it all!  I checked in him the other day to see where things stood.  He told me that the decision was down to him and one other person.  I was puzzled because who else inside the company could be in competition for the job?  He responded, that it was him against an external candidate!  I cringed for him.  I was quickly reminded of how easily we look to the outside and think the grass is so much greener.

Sometimes, when it is time to upgrade or change direction we have to go to the outside but I have always been of the mind that internal choices need to be decided and dismissed before that decision so that those who have worked hard and held their loyalty are not put in this awkward position of, "Am I not good enough?"  While the grass looks greener, let's not forget that it takes more fertilizer, water, nurturing and caring to keep that grass green, than it does to maintain the turf that we know that is not as fragile or will fail under who we already are.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Last week I wrote of the 25th anniversary of the Internet.  A week later there is lots of new talk about the congestion of the internet as both Netflix and Apple are talking to Comcast about streaming their services over cable.  The internet, for a moment there, looked like the end of cable.  We were all to be free of the high fees and reliance on what was programmed.  But, it appears that for those who dropped their cable service for an Apple TV set-top-box, the freedom is ending.  But, of course Apple will still stream over the internet, but I will say here and now that not too far after the deal is done, along will come a program that only those who are on Comcast will be able to view. It will be disguised as a benefit, an extra, or a bonus, but we will know better.  What does this mean for the rest of us? It might mean more choice. Or, it might mean more consolidation. What it will mean is that some of the beauty of the wide open and far ranging internet is being lost and that we didn't think far enough ahead to keep the pipes large enough to handle all internet traffic, that the congestion is starting to change the rules.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Still Missing!

Until something miraculous happens, when you are reading this, Malaysian airlines flight 370 will still be missing and the speculations over the reasons for the disappearance will still be raging.  We get enthralled with those things that can't be explained and something like a plane full of passengers going missing captures our attention.  The same could be said for anything that is in the ordinary that can't be found.  Money.  People. Items. All, when expected to be one place and not there, become a mystery for us to solve.

What if we were this curious and obsessed with the mystery of why someone stopped buying our product, or using our service?  Would we, do we, become obsessive about their disappearance, or do we instead, rationalize that they are only one of so many that w couldn't possibly ever really track and know the reasons, therefore, we should let it go? 

I hear these excuses, and more, all the time and each time I wonder if that business or organization will ever fully reach their potential?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fire Drills

Even though they are technically called Emergency Evacuation Drills we still call them by the name we learned long ago; Fire Drills. We've all been through them at work at some point or another. Just when we are in the middle of an important phone call or meeting, the alarm sounds and out we go to stand on the lawn or concrete and wait for the evacuation manager and the floor wardens to clear the building and allow us back in when the "all clear" is sounded. It always seems like such a pain and a bit of a waste of time, even though in the real one, we all want to be prepared and out the door pronto. Because we all have been through the drills many times, we have come to call those assignments and requests that come to us in the last moment or the least acceptable time and don't end up producing anything of substance, as another "fire drill". There is nothing more precious that we have at work than our time so when someone wastes it with an unnecessary request it can take us all the way to angry and make us quite resentful. Which makes it all the more important that we not waste others time either. We have many choices each day when we ask for time from others. Before each request we should evaluate to ensure that what we are asking for will make a difference, yield a needed result, and most importantly, be the best use of the other person's time. No one like a fire drill exercise. All that said, the real evacuation and fire drills are to keep all of us on our toes and for us to be alert at all times so that we can be ready and prepared if there is an emergency. This is not a bad lesson in life as well. There are certain dangers in life, both literally and figuratively that we must always be ready for and prepared to avoid.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Going Direct!

Part of the power of the internet is that we can go direct to consumers without having to go through third parties, like retailers, brokers or dealers.  But, not all industries are allowed to do so. The most glaring is the car industry where a manufacturer can't sell directly to consumers but must have a car dealer in the middle to make the sale.  I don't know where this practice came from, why or who it protects but it is causing problems for Tesla as they try and expand across the U.S. with their electric cars.  We might take for granted how great it can be to build a direct relationship with our customer and consumer, but we shouldn't.  If we were the music, book or movie industry we would try anything to establish and keep that relationship. 

Who really knows our customers/consumers?  It's Amazon. It's Apple.  It's Best Buy, Target, etc.  Where we can, go direct and go with all humility as this is the best relationship to have.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Here Today, Gone Today

It caught my attention that the SAC Capital Advisor trader, Mathew Martoma, who was convicted of insider trading, had his MBA from Stanford rejected. He had earned that degree in 2003, but Stanford has now taken that degree back.  I actually didn't know that a university could do that, but it makes sense to me.  By breaking the trading laws, Martoma proved that his education didn't sink in and he never learned the lessons taught.  I suspect he is learning his lesson now.  This is a stark reminder that what we think we have today, can be taken away from us tomorrow if we don't respect and honor that with which we know and keep in trust. A brand's reputation can be tarnished forever if we don't care for it and cherish it closely. An employee that we need, can can leave at a moment's notice because we overstepped our boundaries and didn't do all we could to keep them happy.  A partner won't  renew because we didn't treat them like a real partner. A customer never comes back after the salesperson refused to truly listen to them.

The old adage is, "Here today, gone tomorrow". 

In today's world, it's more like, "Here today, gone today".

Monday, March 3, 2014

Downhill Woes

On Saturday of this past weekend, I completed the Phoenix Marathon, which was my eighth Marathon.  I was so excited about the race, the course, and being in Phoenix with dear friends for the weekend. I felt like this might be a race where I could shave a few minutes off of my personal best.  But, not to be.  I was almost 19 minutes worse than my best time.  The course was predominately downhill, which should make for a fast time.  You would think, right?  What looks like it can be one thing, can actually turn around and bite you. Look at this elevation map:
This map shows a 1000 foot elevation drop, but it's the first 4 miles that are of most notice. Those 4 miles at that steepness, was a killer on the quads and by mile 18 my quads were thrashed (they are still killing me).  What looks to be an advantage, can turn out to be a real disadvantage.  Just because it all looks like smooth sailing and downhill doesn't mean that things will work out for the better.  

The best course is always the one that you expect, have managed before and can predict, even if they have some uphills in them.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Faster is Better?

For a long time now we have been told that with only 15 minutes we can save 15% on our car insurance.  Driving on 101 North by the San Francisco airport is a new billboard.  It comes to us from esurance.  The sign says something about finding your insurance savings in 7 1/2 minutes.  Wow! That's 1/2 the time of Geico.  Well, maybe not really a wow?  Some things in life 1/2 the time is a competitive advantage, but in others, it sends the wrong message.  If I want fast food I know where to find it.  But, when I sit down at a fine restaurant, like I did recently, and the food comes out in the same time that a McDonald's order arrives, (which is what happened), everyone at the table looks at each other and says, "Something is not right." 

Knowing the difference between speed and quality is important.  Sometimes, a little more time can be way better than 1/2 the time.


When I am in an airport airline lounge I love to listen the conversations happening around me. At the root, they are all the same. They are business people all trying to fix some type of problem. It can be a problem with their travel, a problem with a deal, a problem with an employee, or a problem with a customer. It can be any type of problem and they are working as hard as they can to fix it and make it go away. This is one of the fundamentals of work. We fix problems. But, problems can be weighty and disheartening and they can create stress that leads to other problems. All of the emotions that come from problems and our need to resolve them can be managed. The problems will still be there but our emotions and reactions to problems are ours to control and create. The answer is all in our outlook and how we look at the problems when they come to our doorstep. We get a choice each and every time. We can either let them take over us or we can take over them.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hashtag This!

There's a very funny TV car commercial about the guy who finds himself dreaming about all the things he missed out on in life, while the car salesman is trying to sell him a new car.  He missed out on the girl who grew up to be a model.  He missed out on investing in Twitter.  This is the one that is funny.  He's sitting at his desk, talking on the phone and says, "140 characters?  I just don't get it."  The next scene is him standing on the deck of his friend's yacht, which is named, "Hashtag This".  The first time I saw it, I laughed out loud because I too had the same reaction to Twitter when I first heard of the service.  (BTW, I wasn't pitched on the investment).  When Twitter showed up it was the time of an explosion in blogging; long-form self-expression.  What could at all makes sense in that time for saying in something when limited to 140 characters.  Well, I was wrong as was the character in the commercial.  Sometimes, things that are so far fetched come along that only a few people can see their potential.  Occasionally we might be on the side of being the predictor, but in most cases we will be the naysayer or the unbelieving. The trick is to stay open to the pitches. 

 Don't turn down the meeting with the young entrepreneur or the wet behind the ears new person in the company. Staying open to the unforeseen and the unbelievable is the only way any of us will be able to be in touch with the future.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Hello, and Welcome to...."

If you read the title of today's post and were immediately able fill in the rest of the sentence, then you are the by-product of a time when digital technology began.  No, this was not the internet.  This was the telephone.

Not too long ago the phone was analog and those content/data hungry, but unfulfilled phone lines were begging to be used more fully.  Remember what a dial-up modem started as?  We would put the phone receiver in a cradle where the microphone could hear the modem sending the data sounds through the phone. And then came push button phones that allowed for tones to be sent.  That was the beginning, for those tones meant ways to capture choices, like "yes" and "no".  Shortly thereafter, we got "Moviefone", or as we may remember it, "777-FILM". 

It was a cultural smash hit.  We called it to just see how it worked.  And, worked it did for a long time. Until this week. We have reached the end of that technology arc.  It's come and gone, replaced by links, touches and apps.  What does that tell us about how fast technology moves?  What does that tell us about our own relevance?  Are we still using the same approach as we did before:  "Hello and Welcome to Moviefone?" 

If so, it's time to change.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Point of No Return

I've been watching the progress of young team of entrepreneurs for a while nowThey have a very interesting and intriguing app idea where I also have interestThere are three core team members and a couple of other people who are also working on the project.  The idea, the talent of the team and the opening in the market could be promising.  But, here's the rub.  These guys all work in different companies and none of them have been willing to make the leap to quit their full time jobs and dive fully in.  They are frustrated because they can't get funding or support outside of a few friends and family.  There is a reason.  

Unless they are willing to show that they are ready to pass the point of no return, their commitment will be questioned.  We ask ourselves, "What was it about those people that made the difference?"  Many times, it is about the willingness to burn the ships and not go back.  This is true across so many aspects of business, entertainment, creativity, etc. 

Unless we can show that we are all in, there will be someone else wondering why they should follow someone who isn't giving it their all?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Time Mistakes

Every once in a while comes along one of those days when the calendar is clear and we look to that day as the day that we are going to get so much done. We start thinking about the goals for that day and we set aside our projects or the list of what needs to happen and we wake enthusiastically for this day of productivity. But then, something happens. What starts as a day of tight objectives and a high sense of efficiency, somehow unravels into too much time talking on the phone to someone else, getting lost and meandering down the hallways to catch up with someone that we haven't talked to in a while, spending too much time digging on the Internet for something that is really not that important, cleaning out a file cabinet that needed cleaning but really isn't a priority right now, or just not pushing ourselves very hard. Then at the end of the day we say to ourselves, "Where did that day go?" I am making the assumption that I am not alone in this phenomena. What happens is that we become so conditioned to back to back meetings, lists of phones calls that need to be returned urgently that day, emails that must be answered, and deadlines that are precariously looming, to set a pace and cadence for our days. When those milestones and markers aren't there, we tend to allow ourselves to drift and our productivity falls. How we use our time is how we find the usefulness of time. Time moves on with or without us making the most of the hours we are given. When we use up our time well we feel good about that. When we don't we beat ourselves up for wasting something we know is precious. Focusing on how we manage our time and how we expend it is a skill that we all should continue to learn about, practice and try to master.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Horse Racing

It’s about this time of the year that I start taking interest in the three-year old thoroughbreds that are racing throughout the country.  I love horse racing because I love the majesty of these beasts who are bred to run and do so with all they have each and every time they are taken to the starting gate.  I used to say that I wanted my company filled with thoroughbreds.  It is a good analogy, but also one that can backfire if taken to the extreme. 

Thoroughbreds are great comparators of each other.  From the time they see another, they begin to size them up and the adrenaline starts flowing to see who can outrun the other.  Get them next to each other and it takes a good trainer and jockey to keep them from looking left and right to see who is ahead or behind them.  When this happens they lose focus and can become distracted.  Sounding familiar? 

Yes, we do the same in our work.  We start running and then we start looking left and right to compare and see how we are doing.  And, with “big data” there will be more and more of the opportunity to compare.  Looking left and right gets us only one thing; a sore neck.  Sure we need to know where our competition stands and what they are doing, but becoming fixated and obsessed about where we stand in comparison can take us off our game and ironically, make us lose ground.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Windows, Mirrors and Doors

It’s pretty difficult imagining a world where we wouldn’t have windows, mirrors and doors.  We like to set up our offices where we have open door policies, or all sit in cube or bullpens where there are no doors.  But, we all know that every workspace needs at least one room with a door on it so that we can conduct confidential business when necessary.  Plus, we have to have a front door to lock when we leave.  Windowless environments (I don’t mean operating systems) can drive people batty after a while.  And, no mirrors in the restrooms would be unheard of doing.  Windows, mirrors and doors are basic to how we live and work.  And they are also metaphors to how we can view business.

Windows represent possibilities.  Doors represent opportunities.  And, mirrors represent reflections on what we can and can’t do with those things out the window or through the door. 

What happens too often is that we become fixated on the windows and doors and we forget about paying attention to what the mirror is telling us.  We have all seen it before; a boss or a team who dream and talk big but never live up to either because they can’t deliver or just don’t know how to get from here to there.  If we paid as much time on our capability as we do our dreams and opportunities, we’d find that getting through the door to those things we could only see through the window, would be a lot easier. 

Maybe time to install more mirrors?

Friday, February 7, 2014

When Being Wrong Is Being Right

One of my favorite business bloggers, Seth Godin, writes: "Assume your plans are wrong".  He is referring to our inability to predict the future when we look more than a couple of generations out.  

In his predicting of wrong, he is so right.  Whenever we become beholden to plans that are more than a decade out, we are probably going to end up disappointed because of the change that occurs around us that disrupt those plans.  And then add on generations of changes of leadership and personnel and who knows what will happen.  

Ask Bill Gates about this as he readies to return to a more active role at Microsoft.  The company that he sees today is a far cry from the company that he founded and while he may know a few familiar faces from the old days, the executive suite is now filled with people that he wasn't together with in that first foxhole. 

We should plan strategically.  It's important we do so, and we need to try and look as far ahead as we can.  But, the attitude that goes with that far-reaching strategy needs to be open-minded enough that if things begin to change tomorrow, then we are willing to toss that plan out the window and redirect without remorse or frustration.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Who Said That?

If you have worked in a company where there is a strong, iconic leader as CEO, you will immediately identify with this statement (you fill in the blank of the name of the CEO): "_______ said..."  I have worked in more than one of these companies, and if the statements and proclamations that were attributed to the CEO were actually true, then that CEO wouldn't have had any time to do anything else but sit around and just talk about things from all over the business.  I used to like to challenge the attributions by asking, "When did he say that?" and "Did you personally hear him say that?"  Usually, it was hearsay, conjecture, or more often than not, a convenient attribution to help someone make their own point, or more simply said, a lie. 

We do this at work and we see it happen in the press from our political leaders and then we carry these false statements into our workplaces and our homes.  Why do we do it and more importantly, why do we think that we have to have a quote from the top to decide to agree or disagree one something?  This is our world.  In business and life there are more followers than leaders and the fear of making our own declarations that could be wrong force us into trying to figure out what the top is thinking and saying before we make our own moves. 

It is dangerous and deadly to a company when we have to stop and hear what the top, or the next rung up the ladder says about something before we come to our own statement and point of view.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Doing Something In All the Same Way...

If you ever want to do a study on business productivity, it would be fascinating to start with the amount of time and energy that is put into trying to get people to do something in all the same way. Think about that for a moment and in your own experience, how often you have had to have that conversation with someone or a group?  We all have done it.  We have to to win over the wills of individuality and streaks of independence to get people to conform to a a way of doing something so that we can have measurable and predictable outcomes. 

Software engineering and startup companies spend an enormous amount of time doing just this.  There have been books after books written on the subject and consultants have made millions of dollars on the simple premise of getting people to do the same things.  Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg himself is after this with his Open Compute Project.  He thinks he can be the one to create a new way of computing, sharing code and getting people to write code in the same way that can be transferred across countries, companies and time zones. This will require lots of people changing to conform to do something new, all the same way.

Making change happen in people is complex, hard, and many times frustrating and futile.  But, we have to do so.  We know that the boat moves in the water more efficiently and faster if every oar goes into and out of the water in a synchronized fashion. 

If the oars could do it by themselves, then it would be easy. It's those hands that are connected to a body that are connected to a brain that make it hard.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Predicting the Future

I read with great curiosity of the new company, "300" and what it is supposed to do for the music industry.  Founded by longtime music executive, Lyor Cohen, the idea is that 300 will mine Twitter's database of tweets and that information will play the role of a music A&R person who scouts for the next big hits, trends, bands or artists of interest.  It's like listening in on the conversations of people streaming out of a nightclub after hearing a new band and seeing what they are saying, who they are telling, and what they think. Will it work?  Who knows.  I tend to think that what people talk about on Twitter is more negative than positive, so maybe it will help negate false positives better than the random process today of discovering new artists and music.  What this boils down to is another "better way" to predict the future.  We all want the data, science and ability to do so for our businesses, that is why we spend all that money and time on surveying and research.  At the end of the day, data does matter and the future is many times found within the unknown that can't be predicted any other way.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Too Big for Their Britches Syndrome

I'm not going to mention the name of the band, but here in LA for GRAMMY week, I was a part of an event where the band was signed to perform and along with the performance, they were committed to doing some media, pictures, and mingling with the donors who so generously underwrote the event for a great cause.  What happened at the 11th hour was the band decided they wouldn't do anything other than perform.  Even before the show went on, we had a sour taste in our mouths about them.  Before the show I ran into them in a hallway.  They all walked with their heads down, avoiding eye contact so to not be noticed (or that was their schtick).  When they performed, they were just as detached from the audience, never engaging or recognizing their fans who had bought tickets to be there.

If you have any experience with music artists, or any type of performing artist, and yes, even high-profile business people, this is called the "too big for their britches syndrome".  On one hand, you might say, "Well why not?" And you go on, "These guys can't live normal lives as they are recognized and pawed on for autographs and photographs at every turn."  Here is why not.  As Julius Caesar said, "Fame is fleeting."

When fame turns to pride, artists and all of us lose our way.  When we think we are above the rest then we are already on our way to sliding down the other side.  This band, are here today, but they will more than likely be gone tomorrow.  And, I will guarantee this, when they are in the later years of life and walking through an airport, they will love the person who walks up to them and says, "I was a fan of yours".

These guys missed the opportunity for life-long engagement last night.  Had they acted in the opposite, I would be writing a much different post this morning of an example of giving, gratitude and accessibility.

And more importantly, they would have gained a fan.

Hopscotch Work

One of my favorite bloggers, Seth Godin, had this to say recently about the pace of how we we now work:

"We skip reading the whole thing, because it's easier to jump to what we assume the writer meant.
We skip engaging with customers and stakeholders because it's quicker to assert we know what they want.
We skip doing the math, examining the footnotes, recreating the experiment, because it might not turn out the way we need it to.
We better hurry, because the firstest, loudest, angriest opinion might sway the crowd."

Guilty as charged?  Sure, we all are, and we need to know the same about our consumers, customers and employees.  Internally, we spend time and energy on things that demand deep-thinking and reading the fine print for success to happen and then we are frustrated when our people say, "I didn't know".  This is not going to get better. With a 140 character, Snapchat, Instagram world, we are only experiencing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to attention-span deficit and hopscotching through work and life.  What to do?  We must adapt without losing the ability to place emphasis where attention must be held.  It can be done and those who master this will win the day.  Consider the power of visuals, sounds and stories that make one think and ask follow up questions.  If you have read this far...the answer lies somewhere there.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


This is GRAMMY week.  For me, in my final year as Chairman of The GRAMMY Foundation, I will be at a number of events this week where it will be standing room only, SRO.  I always marvel at the number of people who want to attend The GRAMMYs.  The demand is high.  Behind this interest is a love of music. 

Wouldn't it be great if we could get our customers and consumers to desire our business at the same level?  It's not impossible.  If we know the loves of our customers/consumers and what they desire and why, then we might be able to have them clamoring for us.  

If you think it can't be done, ask Apple what it feels like to launch a new product. It can be done.