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.