Simon Sinek: The Celery Test

“Simon Sinek?” Yeah, he’s a TED talks guy. Ring a bell? I hope so. He’s also the author of “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” as well as “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.”

Confession time. I didn’t catch “Start With Why” when it was first published circa 2009. But eventually, a few weeks ago, I found it. That’s all that matters now.

Below is an excerpt from “Start With Why” that begged to be shared. I hope it’s clear: I’m not trying to rip-off Sinek and take food from his mouth. My goal is quite the opposite. It’s a brilliant collection of words so I hope this inspires you to buy the book, and perhaps “Leaders Eat Last” as well.

Simon Sinek: The Celery Test

Also, I’m sure plenty of others have regurgitated (i.e., chewed and spit out) this passage in “their own words” without giving a nod to Sinek. That’s not my style. And if for some reason this article feels like I’m just being lazy, please think again. Thanks.

It’s a simple metaphor called the Celery Test.

Imagine you go to a dinner party and someone comes up to you and says, “You know what you need in your organization? M&M’s. If you’re not using M&M’s in your business, you’re leaving money on the table.”

Somebody else comes up to you and says, “You know what you need? Rice milk. The data shows that all the people are buying rice milk these days. You should be selling rice milk in this economy.”

While you’re standing over the punch bowl, yet another person offers some sage advice. “Oreo cookies,” he says. “We made millions from implementing Oreo cookies in our organization. You’ve got to do it.”

Still somebody else comes up to you and says, “Celery. You’ve got to get into celery.”

You get all this great advice from all these highly accomplished people. Some of them are in the same industry. Some of them are more successful than you. Some of them have offered similar advice to others with great success. Now, what do you do?

You go to the supermarket and you buy celery, rice milk, Oreos and M&M’s. You spend a lot of time at the supermarket walking the aisles. You spend a lot of money because you buy everything. But you may or may not get any value from some or all of these products; there are no guarantees. Worse, if you’re budget-constrained, you had to whittle down your choices again. And then which do you choose?

But one thing’s for sure: when you’re standing in line at the supermarket with all these items in your arms, your celery, rice milk, Oreos and M&Ms, nobody can see what you believe. What you do is supposed to serve as tangible proof of what you believe, and you bought everything.

But what if you knew your WHY before you went to the supermarket? What if your WHY is to do only things that are healthy? To always do the things that are good for your body? You’ll get all the same good advice from all the same people, the only difference is, the next time you go to the supermarket, you’ll buy only rice milk and celery. Those are the only products that make sense. It’s not that the other advice isn’t good advice; it’s just not good for you. The advice doesn’t fit.

Filtering your decisions through your WHY, you spend less time at the supermarket and you spend less money, so there’s an efficiency advantage also. You’re guaranteed to get value out of all the products you bought. And, most importantly, when you’re standing in line with your products in your arms, everybody can see what you believe. With only celery and rice milk it’s obvious to people walking by what you believe. “I can see that you believe in looking after your health,” they may say to you. “I feel the same way. I have a question for you.” Congratulations. You just attracted a customer, an employee, a partner or a referral simply by making the right decisions. Simply ensuring that WHAT you do proves what you believe makes it easy for those who believe what you believe to find you. You have successfully communicated your WHY based on WHAT you do.

This is an idealistic concept and in the real world that level of discipline is not always possible. I understand that sometimes we have to make short-term decision to pay bills or get some short-term advantage. That’s fine. The Celery Test still applies. If you want a piece of chocolate cake, go right ahead. The difference is, when you start with WHY, you know full well that the chocolate cake is a short-term decision that doesn’t fit with your beliefs. You’re under no illusions. You know you are only doing it for the short-term sugar rush and you’ll have to work a little harder to get it out of your system. It’s astounding the number of business I see that view an opportunity as the one that’s going to set them on a path to glory, only to have it blow up or slowly deflate over time. They see the chocolate cake and can’t resist. Starting with WHY not only helps you know which is the right advice for you to follow, but also to know which decisions will put you out of balance. You can certainly make those decisions if you need to, but don’t make too many of them, otherwise over time, no one will know what you believe.

But here’s the best part. As soon as I told you WHY, you knew that we were going to buy only celery and rice milk even before you read it. As soon as I gave you the filter, as soon as I said the WHY, you knew exactly what decisions to make before I said so.

That’s called scale.

With a WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder. A WHY provides the clear filter for decision-making. Any decisions—hiring, partnerships, strategies and tactics—should all pass the Celery Test.

The bottom line…If you haven’t read Sinek’s “Start With Why,” now is the time to add it to your 2015 TODO.

Lessons Learned from The World Cup 2014

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s big. Bigger than the Super Bowl big. The it is The World Cup. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

I believe that football / futbol / soccer is much like life itself. You’re not always moving forward to reach the goal. Sometimes you’re on the defensive. Sometime things are slow, sometimes fast. Sometimes what looks like bad news suddenly turns good. It challenges both the body and the mind. In short, football is fluid. It’s like a chess match. A thinking man’s / woman’s sport. A creative man’s / woman’s sport.

As you probably already know, this year’s winner was Germany. And while it’s too early to declare a dynasty there are some well known “tricks” that went into Germany’s process for achieving this massively difficult milestone.

  1. You need a plan. Accidents rarely result in victory—on or off the pitch.
  2. You need a team. Be mindful of the fact that a collection of individual players does not necessarily mean you have a team. As Jim Collins said in the classic Good To Great: “Get the right people on the bus.”
  3. Don’t be star struck. Germany has some serious footballers but none draw the same level of media attention as some of the sport’s (individual) superstars. It’s worth mentioning that Spain—the winner of the 2010 World Cup—had a very similar approach in terms of team development.
  4. Good things come to those who wait. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. In order to be successful you have to be willing to grind it out. Germany’s 1-0 win over Argentina for The World Cup 2014 was 14 years in the making. Yes, 14 years!
  5. Be humble. From the three articles listed below if nothing else please be sure to read: “Mesut Özil donates World Cup winnings to 23 children’s surgeries in Brazil.” You’ll be touched, impressed, and ideally also inspired.

Lessons Learned from The World Cup 2014

The Real Secret to Success

Success in being effective and being efficient is (IMHO) very similar to regular success. That is, it’s not about grand slams and home runs. It’s not even about doubles and singles.

The real magic happens at the plate. It’s about knowing which pitch to swing at, and which to let go. In short, you can’t hit a single—let alone a grand slam—if you’re constantly swinging at the wrong pitch.

For example, many people get all jazzed up about Facebook. “Look at that grand slam!” And those same people get all star-struck about on how far the ball went / is going.

Nope!

The brilliance is that Facebook swung at the right pitch at the right time. Obviously, the swing (i.e., execution) also plays a significant role. But they also didn’t swing at some crap pitch in the dirt.

The bottom line…Mitigate your risk—i.e., increase your chances for success—by staying focused and letting the wrong pitches pass by. Losing focus and swinging at pitches not worth swinging at is not a strategy of the successful.

This article was inspired by:

Scott Hanselman
“Scott Hanselman’s Complete List of Productivity Tips”

“In the end, it takes you.”

How about some quick post three day weekend inspiration to get you motivated today? This savory bit was pulled from the new (and free) mini-ebook “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey” by Mr. Brian Solis (http://www.BrianSolis.com).

“Innovation begins here. Innovation begins with you.
You are the change agent. You will help influence an uprising that overturns the prevailing
culture of management into that of leadership and innovation.
It’s not easy, but it’s within your ability and reach.
It takes courage to do what others will not.
It takes vision to see what others can’t.
It takes empathy to feel what others experience.
It takes persistence to overcome resistance.
It takes patience to allow the time necessary for your work to bloom.
In the end, it takes you.
Where you are and where you need to be is separated only by your vision and also
your actions and words.
Savor this moment. And then do something about it.”

Solis is also the author of “WTF [of Business]”, “The End of Business as Usual”, as well as “Engage!”. For more info and links to your favorite book provider: http://www.BrianSolis.com/books

Free Download: “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey”

Stanford and Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders: Tim O’Reilly

Every now and then you come across something that begs to be shared. This podcast is one of those moments:

Standford’s Entrepreneurship Corner Thought Leaders Series presents Tim O’Reilly

Yes, that’s Mr. Web 2.0 of O’Reilly Publishing fame. While I trust you’ll take the time to listen to Tim, these are the ideas that intrigued me. (Note: Some are quotes, some simply paraphrased, and some are O’Reilly quoting others.)

 

  • Edwin Schlossberg: “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”
  • Implicit context
  • Embrace hardware as well as software
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • A system in the space between devices…not just a single application
  • The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits
  • Software is a commodity. Data is the new currency of value.
  • Rethink workflows and the experience
  • Think differently about human / machine symbiosis
  • We don’t have better algorithms. We just have more data.
  • It’s a fairly hard AI problem to pick a traffic light out of a video stream. It’s a trivial AI problem to figure out if it’s red or green if you already know that it’s there.
  • Reputation systems
  • Close the loop
  • What loops can you change? How can you make things smarter? And close the loop?
  • Enable an economy
  • Create more value than you capture
  • Make other people successful
  • Work on stuff that matters
  • Idealism is good for your business
  • Work on things that are hard. Find hard problems.
  • Look a little sideways
  • Code For America (http://CodeForAmerica.org)
  • O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (http://OATV.com)
  • It’s an ongoing process
  • Find interesting problems that are relevant locally
  • It’s about narrating your work in public
  • Sometimes it takes a long time, keep at it
  • Who do you want your customers to be
  • Subscription is an important business model
  • Sensors (hardware) are talking to software
  • The Maker Movement
  • Square enabled coffee shop

Share this! And listen to it again and gain. You’ll hear a little more each time.

A million millions is…Trillions

The future is here, almost, and it looks nothing like the present and the past. Or so is the vision / prediction of Mickey McManus (CEO of MAYA Design, http://MAYA.com). Earlier this week to promote his new book, Mr. McManus spoke on the Princeton University campus as part of the Keller Center’s ongoing Events & Lectures series (http://commons.princeton.edu/kellercenter/2012/10/mickey-mcmanus-trillions.html). He, along with Peter Lucas and Joe Ballay (also from MAYA Design), are the authors of “Trillions—Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology”.

Yes of course, I bought the book (as well as had it signed). If you’re interested you can follow my chapter by chapter “key takeaways” here:
http://chiefalchemist.com/source/trillions-maya-design-lucas-ballay-mcmanus

This was not your typical mid-week late afternoon session sprinkled with takeaways of hard and fast (business) rules. Instead the focus was on ideas and concepts that were abstract and thought provoking, if not mind-expanding. I mention this now so you have the proper context for my notes below. Please adjust your expectations accordingly. Also, perhaps consider buying the book to fill in any blanks you might suddenly spawn.

  • Seconds, the measurement of time. 1 million seconds is ~1.5 weeks ago and 1 billion seconds goes back to the mid-70s. But 1 trillion seconds is 30,000 BC!
  • There are 50 to 100 trillions cells in the human body.
  • Malignant complexity
  • Five cloud services currently store most of humanity’s information.
  • Cascading failures
  • The mountain we’re on is nothing compared to the one that’s coming.
  • Nature is the ideal model (for managing complexity).
  • Beautiful complexity
  • Generativity (Ref: Wikipedia)
  • Conway’s Game of Life (Ref: Wikipedia)
  • Generativity + Human Centered Design + Parametic Model
  • Bill Joy (Sun Microsystems): “There are always more smart people working for someone else than working for you.”
  • There’s a bubble coming…
  • Luck is not a plan.
  • Become a student of what’s coming.
  • Count the cards. Learn the tricks. Learn the patterns.
  • A crisis of creativity (i.e., not enough of it).
  • We must pivot from making things right to making the right things.
  • Dream bigger.
  • Brands will become transparent whether they want to or not.
  • Patagonia (company) is a model for the future.
  • There are electrical codes. There are plumbing codes. There are no codes for computing and technology.

Wow. Right?

“Figuring it out is the fulcrum,” said the man with the billion dollar smile

Luck favors the prepared, as well as those who keep their eyes and ears open for “opportunities”. (Colleagues who do the same is a big help too.) The truth be told I consider myself quite fortunate to have made time for Steve Papa’s appearance at Princeton University late yesterday afternoon. Aside from being a graduate of Princeton (1994), Papa was also one of the founders of Endeca Technologies. Less than a year ago Endeca was acquired by Oracle for around $1.1 billion.

Here are some of the highlights from my notes:

  • Rule #1 – Ignore the experts. When you’re doing something new there are people who just won’t get it.
  • Learn to succeed despite the odds. Have faith, it’s part of the process.
  • When financial times are tight, sell a painkiller (i.e., a product that increases revenue).
  • Recession, reinvention & re-organization.
  • Main lesson: Ideas <–> Figuring it out <–> Execution. There’s more to it than just ideas and execution. The fulcrum (that few talk about) is figuring it out.
  • “Survivorship bias”—Don’t let early customers over-influence your product / direction. The customer is always right, but not every customer is the right customer at the right time for your company.
  • Being entrepreneurial is the relentless pursuit of credibility.
  • Fact: Entrepreneurs don’t create risk, they mitigate it.
  • Be aware of macroeconomics
  • “It’s always a good time to innovate but there’s not always time for every innovation.”
  • You will hire people who will not do what is good and best for your company. This is particularly true of sales people.
  • With regards to hiring:
    – Repeaters vs creators
    – Doers vs leaders
    – Intellectually curious vs focused
    – Experience vs potential
    – Credibility vs talent, or both?
  • Where the company / product is in the development cycle will drive the specifics of your hiring needs.
  • Key to sales: Timing, territory & talent in that order. [Note: He made it a point to highlight that timing and territory come before talent.]

The two best gems came towards the end of the presentation:

  • Luck plays a bigger role than most will admit. But luck favors the prepared.
  • “I figured out the right approach by process of elimination.”

Needless to say, Steve knows his was around the playing field. Yet much like Jack Dorsey, there was a quiet confidence in Papa’s persona. No chest thumpin’ or other Thump-isms, just simple honest ideas, opinions and facts. Strictly business—humble, human and with a smile.

Some thoughts from Jack Dorsey (The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, Sept 2012)

Yes, the Mr. Jack Dorsey—inventor of Twitter and founder of Square (the payment platform)—was on the Princeton University campus yesterday for a presentation + Q&A session sponsored by The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. In front of a full-house in McCosh 10, a casual but poised and polished Dorsey put his mega-success on pause to share some business wisdom with what was primarily tech-aware university students. Fortunately for my colleagues and I, many of the The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club events are open to the public. Apparently, the club doesn’t subscribe to the infamous stealth-mode philosophy.

Here are most of the highlights from my notes:

  • William Gibson: “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
  • Constantly! Reset. Rethink. Reorganize.
  • Try to structure your company in such a way that it allows for multiple founding moments.
  • Square’s motto: An idea that can change the course of the company can comes from anywhere.
  • New energy + new people = new ideas
  • Disruption is an undesirable approach. The ultimate objective is revolution.
  • “We need more confidence.”
  • “Square enables people to do what they love.”
  • A beautiful company will lead to a beautiful product (but not necessarily the other way around).
  • Recommended book: “The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership” by Bill Walsh.
  • In speaking about the Golden Gate Bridge, “Small groups of people can do epic things.”
  • Also about the GGB, Dorsey said it was an example of a brilliant combination of engineering, design and utility. He discussed the fact that most people who use the bridge probably don’t consider how magnificent it really is. He added that great things can (and sometimes should) be forgettable.
  • The DNA of the company is essential.
  • Come to meetings prepared.
  • Square has sit-down and stand-up tables. Dorsey drew laughs by adding that the meetings that use the stand-up tables tend to be shorter.
  • Naming the company is important. It sets the tone for everything. Square was finite and fitting, yet at the same time extendable.

Jack Dorsey was refreshing, humble and ego-less. It was often hard to believe that one of the 21st century’s business/technology heavy-weights could be so understated. There was no you’re so lucky I’m here. No, I have all the answers kids so listen to me. It was simply one very successful (young) man’s view of the world, and a sincere willingness to share it.

One of the key takeaways for me was what he didn’t say. He rarely used the word innovation (and dismissed the use of the start-up anthem of disruption). Aside from that, his next most important message was the emphasis on people. Finding the right people to work for his company so those people can develop beautiful products for people in the market who will be excited about its availability. The key was not technology but people. Surprise! Very old school, yes? None the less, Dorsey’s ideas shimmered with pure brilliance. Everything old could be new once again.

What is your IAR (Ideas to Actions Ratio)?

I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done.

We come up with (what has the potential to be) a great idea and then we pat ourselves on the back because we think we’ve done something amazing. As if one idea in the massive and endless universe of all ideas is somehow instantly special. Really? Think about it, what are the odds? It can’t be that simple, can it? Actually, it’s not.

Over the last couple weeks I have apparently been serendipitously blessed with the inspiration and content for this article.  Two fortune cookies and a tweet from Mark Cuban. Yeah, I feel the same way, who knew?

There are no shortcuts to a place worth going.
“There are no shortcuts to a place worth going.”

Sloth makes all things difficult, industry all easy.
“Sloth makes all things difficult, industry all easy.”

Mark Cuban: Ideas are easy. The hard part is making a business.
Mark Cuban: “Ideas are easy I’ve never met a single person who didn’t think they had a world class idea. The hard part is making it a business.”

 

The bottom line…ideas are overrated. Without actions, without follow up, without persistence, without growth, without the glimmer of a plan,  ideas are about as valuables as dandelion seeds aimlessly floating in the wind. Or, as it’s rightfully said, “A penny for your thoughts.”

You’ve got a great idea? Super, you and a gazillion other people. The real question is, what are you ready, willing and able to do about it? What is your Ideas to Actions Ratio?

From bar napkin to zillionaire in 10 “easy” steps

Funny how these things happen sometimes. A friend of a colleague/friend read my “How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success” from a couple weeks back. She/he appreciated the insight and suggested we get together to discuss a collection of ideas she/he and a couple “partners” had been kicking around.

A day or so later we met. After an couple of hours of mostly highly discussion she/he popped the question: “Mark, what would you do?”

Below is a rough and obviously very high level synopsis of the answer that came off the top of my head then (and has been refined a bit since):

Note: Many of these are not silos. That is, the reality is they are interconnected and take form in an agile and interactive fashion. They tend not to happen in a nice and neat linear list as you see here.

  1. Develop your logo / brand identity. This includes domain name(s), social media profile handles, etc.
  2. Formalize your mission statement. Be clear and concise about your idea to the point that all partners agree and sign-off, be it informally or formally.
  3. Organize your collection ideas into a 10 slide “”pitch-deck”. There could be multiple versions of this pitch depending on the target audience. Regardless, each pitch should answer the target’s “What in it for me?” Note: This step is as much about aligning the partners as it is about organizing your pile of ideas and crafting your pitch(s).
  4. Sketch out a marketing plan and set some goals. For example, how many Twitter followers and Facebook “friends” equals “critical mass” and success.
  5. Set up social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and begin collecting followers. Track that against goals and regularly assess how much resources it’s going to take to hit your targets.
  6. Set up a basic / coming soon / sign-up-for-beta website. Use any of the above content to flesh that out. Ultimately, the site should get beta sign-ups, help add FB Likes, Twitter followers, etc. The fact is, with barriers to entry so low, cutting through the clutter is a very difficult task. Most non-marketers severely under-estimate how difficult engagement really is. In other words, you’re not the only outfit with a great idea trying to get people’s attention.—Be sure to use Google Analytcis on the site so you can monitor: traffic, nature of the visits, clicks, etc. in order to gauge the level of interest. GA is essential. Collect and analyze your all data in order to refine the sketch of your marketing plan.—I’d recommend a blog on the site to communicate ideas, show progress, collect comments, etc. A blog is also good for SEO. That said, content generation takes time. Who’s going to do that? Reply to comments, manage the social media accounts (correctly), etc.?
  7. With that said, define roles. Of the partners, who is responsible for what, when, etc. Don’t assume. In fact, never assume. Also, there’s a massive amount of truth to, “The devil is in the details.” You’d be surprised how easy it is to not  on executing once you get past the idea on a bar napkin stage.
  8. As that’s all moving along, refine your wants-list into real business needs, (fairly detailed) functionality, wireframes (hand-drawn is fine), etc. and begin to design and develop the brand’s website. Your critical mass goals, sign-up progress and traffic will help to dictate your timeline.—The current rule of thumb is to get in the game with a raw but solid idea and refine as you go. None the less, you have to have some framework to start with. Especially, if there are multiple decision makers. It goes without saying that personalities change as the bumps in the road come bigger and faster.
  9. As all that’s moving along, develop a network for press releases and other “good will” type channels. Contrary to popular belief, big dogs (e.g. Facebook) don’t exactly go viral. Once the angel investors and VCs kick in their part those players open up their “little black books” of media contacts to fan the fire of interest in their new investment. When someone tosses in 5, 6 or 7 figures they aren’t just sitting around praying for “viral”. They’re playing puppet master. If you’re more grassroots and boot strapped then you might be limited to praying for viral. It’s up to you.
  10. Discuss if not formalize an exit strategy. You’d be surprised how well defining the way out helps to determine the path(s) you take. Building a house to live in and building one to sell are usually two very different approaches.

And now for the Bonus Tip:

Don’t quit your day job until your have to. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Having your back up against the wall can be inspiring—provided the partners agree on who’s going to bear that burden.

A Simple New Year’s Resolution for a More Successful 2012

We’ve all done it. We aim high and mean well but end up not reaching our own expectations. Sometimes it’s frustrating being human. Yet there’s got to be a better way. And there is!

As the story goes, a couple weeks back I came across an (audio) interview with Heidi Grant Halvorson (author of “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently”) via Harvard Business Review’s HBR IdeaCast. From there I drilled down and around a bit and found an HBR article that I presume to be more or less a synopsis of her book. Then within that article were links out to other supporting articles.

When all was said and done I found the whole bundle insightful, relevant and (given the time of the year) highly share worthy.

The simple New Year’s resolution is this: resolve to consume these six articles. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did. Don’t panic, they’re all bite sized.

“What Successful People Do Differently”—An interview with Heidi Grant Halvorson

“Nine Things Successful People Do Differently” by Heidi Grant Halvorson

“Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything” by Tony Schwartz

“Get Your Goals Back on Track” by Heidi Grant Halvorson

“A Better Way to Manage Your To-Do List” by Peter Bregman

“How to Teach Yourself Restraint” by Peter Bregman

Dig in. I hope you find this collection as valuable as I do. Leave a comment, let me know what you think.

The Taming of the Screw

Earlier today I had coffee with a respected colleague. We both have unique perspectives so it’s always refreshing to meet for some engaging banter. As it often does, the conversation turned to the economy (old vs. new), the internet (web 2.0 vs. web 3.0), and how such dynamic parameters impact companies/organizations in pursuit of growth.

Here is a non-all inclusive summary of our conversation in no particular order:

  1. Now more than ever, the parameter settings (so to speak) that grew a successful company to Tier X, is quite often not the same settings to get to Tier X+1, Tier X+2 and beyond.
  2. Early growth is like pounding a nail. However, at some point that nail turns into a screw. The brute force of a hammer that drove the nail is all but useless for turning screws. Simply pounding harder is not the answer. In fact, it’s a false assumption that is distracting and counter productive. Pounding even harder qualifies as insane.
  3. By definition, change (e.g., growth) requires change. In addition, more is more and better is better. Simply repeating more of yesterday’s this-works is probably not the formula for a better tomorrow. Believing otherwise can be dangerous.
  4. While culture starts with HR, it’s management’s role to set direction, motivate, maximize productivity and reinforce that culture. Culture doesn’t just happen. If the culture is failing it’s not the fault of staff.
  5. While few, some things have not changed. As in sports, victory is shared by the team. However, the responsibility for coming up short belongs to management/leadership.
  6. While certainly not a panacea, tool selection (i.e., technology) can be the deciding factor between getting to Tier X+2 and Tier X+4.
  7. Bureaucracy is not absolute, it is relative. In other words, what’s counter-productive for a Tier X company can be best practices and M&Ps for a company a tier or two up. The challenge is making the transition from controlled chaos to focused, efficient and low noise.
  8. Act like the company you want to be, not the company you used to be. In today’s environment, yesterday as an anchor is no longer a positive.
  9. As organizations grow what is required to sustain that growth evolves. For example, entrepreneurial leadership is often replaced with a more seasoned approach. Darwinism dictates that organisms that don’t evolve die.
  10. If growth were simply a matter of scaling up sales then there would be a glut of multi-million dollar companies. The difficulty of scaling marketing/sales aside, there’s more to sustainable growth than more sales. Higher volume increases noise. Therefore, noise reduction is also critical.

The bottom line…we both agreed that in spite of the macro-economic gloom and doom there continues to be  opportunities for growth minded organizations willing to evolve.

Are you a big duck or a small talker?

In the course of doing some business yesterday, I stopped for a quick lunch. While I wasn’t intentionally trying to ease drop on the table next to me I heard one person say to the other, “…but we’re not a big company…” They all then proceeded to piss and moan about the symptoms of lack of process, lack of structure, wishy-washy management, etc.

I’m as agile and unstructured as the next guy/gal. On the other hand even I understand that there is a difference between the burdens of bureaucracy and adding value by working smart via appropriate process/structure. If a problem keeps bleeding, the answer is not to make excuses and let it keep bleeding. The answer is not to apply yet another temporary band-aid. The simple answer is to fix the problem. Yes, quite often that entails doing things you don’t normally like to do. But that’s why they call it work.

It’s easy to tell when something needs to be addressed or not. When the amount of time lost—note: time spent complaining is included here—exceeds the amount of time it would take to solve the problem, then you know you have a problem that needs to be solved sooner rather than later.

Naturally, you should also be willing to revisit that solution when necessary. In other words, yesterday’s best answer might not be the optimal answer for tomorrow. “That’s how we’ve always done things,” is not an acceptable answer.

The bottom line…

If you want to be a duck, then walk like one and talk like one.

The transformation follows the act(s), not the other way around.

In other words, successful small companies don’t become larger companies and then add the necessary bells & whistles. It’s actually quite the opposite. Successful small companies embrace the necessary bells & whistles as the means to becoming better (bigger) companies. Of course the bells & whistles are going to be a function of an organization’s culture, the personnel involved, etc. One size does not fit all all the time.

Fast. Cheap. Right. Pick Two and a Half

Anyone who has gotten within ten feet of a project of any size understands the classic adage:

—Fast

—Cheap

—Right

Pick two.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you go with Fast and Cheap. Fair enough, not every effort demands or allows for the premium package. F & C is also a sign of the times. Budgets are tight and markets are as fluid as ever. However, not picking Right does not mean you should abandon all sense of best practices and PM common sense.

For example, let’s say you decide to refinish a chair. The ultimate solution would be to take it to a professional with the proper experience and equipment and let him/her work their magic. Your next choice might be to get the right equipment yourself (or borrow it from a friend), buy a “Furniture Refinishing for Dummies” book and slot out a weekend to get the job done. But maybe its a chair of not much value and all the top choices would be overkill.

Again, fair enough. You just want to give the old chair some new life. None the less you probably shouldn’t ignore all sense of Right.  At the very least you should sand the chair down a bit, give it a thorough washing and possibly slap on at least one coat of primer before you repaint. Deciding to completely bypass Right and just paint the chair “as is” in most cases would be a mistake. The type of mistake that you will eventually regret. The type of mistake that will just have to be redone again the minimal Right way.

On a more practical level, let’s say you want a website and you want it Fast & Cheap. These things happen sometimes and you have to deal with the cards in front of you. But that doesn’t mean all sense of Right should be abandoned. In fact, in order to keep Fast & Cheap on target there still needs to be a minimum commitment to Right.

Here are a few rules I’ve come up with that will help your Fast & Cheap project shine:

Fast & Cheap Rule #1 – Remove as many unknowns as quickly as possible. This is essential. Looking at the map while you’re flying forward is dangerous. For example, if your core team is familiar with web host X, CMS Y and copy writer Z then stick with those. Unless there is some irrefutable and compelling reason to switch horses then stick with what you know as much as possible. If someone doesn’t have a working understanding of a particular tool or element, get them up to speed ASAP.  Mitigating unnecessary distractions is essential to efficiency. Avoid shiny new objects and any other unknowns as much as possible.

Fast & Cheap Rule #2 – Define the destination as quickly and as tightly as possible. There’s no sense embarking on a high-speed journey if you don’t know where you’re going and what provisions you might need to get there. Running fast for the sake of running fast might be fun in grade school gym class but it’s no way to get a quick & dirty project done on time and within budget. Be smart! Figure out where you’re going before you turn the key and stomp on the gas. One or two wrong turns at high-speed could result in undesirable and costly consequences

Fast & Cheap Rule #3 – Ask Why. Then ask What. Before you ask How. Obviously, closely related to Rule #2. For example, don’t start talking about the website’s design until there’s an agreed upon Why and What. For iproperty development the boilerplate I also recommend using is:

1) Who is the target audience?

2) What are their expectations?

3) What content and functionality is necessary to meet those expectations?

4) How does that correlate to the wants and needs of the brand?

Again, it doesn’t matter how Cheap and Fast you’re moving if you get to the wrong destination. It doesn’t matter if you pick a website design that looks nice if it’s ultimately inappropriate for the Why and What. You could get lucky. But why rely on luck when investing in a bit of time can do the trick? Yes, there is no doubt design is important. But its true value exists within the context of the business needs (i.e., Why and What). If you believe that defining the Why and What is too overwhelming then proceed at your own risk. Some might say, “We can’t afford the time for that.” No actually, the reality is you can’t afford the risk of not filling in these blanks. Ultimately the time invested now will be a bargain to what you pay later if you don’t get lucky.

Fast & Cheap Rule #4 – Listen to your able and trusted resources. Let’s say you take your car to the shop because you’re having a problem. The mechanic takes the car for a short drive and then puts the car up on the lift to have a closer look. Shortly thereafter he/she comes back and says you need services X, Y & Z. Do you say no thanks and then specify he/she replace A and/or B? Or do you ask for an explanation and then more likely than not proceed as recommended? At the risk of repeating myself a slight bit, unless there is some irrefutable and compelling reason not to listen to your able and trusted resources then stick with what they recommend as much as possible. A quality resource is not going to speak just to be heard. If the idea sounds feasible and their explanation reasonable then follow their path.

Fast & Cheap Rule #5 – Hit the expectations reboot button. Once you’ve run through the previous steps, do a quick loop back around and share what’s been documented in order to get everyone—resources and stakeholders—on the same page. It’s going to be worth reminding everyone that the meal is closer to fast-food than it is white table cloth fine dining. Even so, someone at some point is going to be tempted to discuss the wine list. Simply put, there is no wine list in this phase. Therefore, start a list for future enhancements. Not only will this list eventually come in handy, but it will also be a polite and positive way to say no not now.

Conclusion – Pardon me if this sounds a bit direct and honest but Fast & Cheap is not an acceptable excuse for being mindless. Sometimes cutting corners is necessary. But doing so with no seat belt on and while wearing a blindfold is foolish at best. Some times it’s necessary to be fast and be cheap but there’s no need to top that off with a stinky pile of hasty.

A Final Note – While this article focused on Fast & Cheap, the truth is many of these concepts apply no matter what two and a half options you pick from the list. And while you can’t have it all, the fact is there are smart ways to get the most from what you do have. All you have to do is look and think before you leap.

Friends don’t let friends blame IT

“7 IT lessons from the collapse of Borders” by Frank Hayes (ComputerWorld.com, 7 March 2011). Truth be told I am by nature a geek. Not that I’m necessarily a shiny new object kind of guy. But I do appreciate technology, it’s application, and it’s potential for positive impact. While I don’t wear my geek pride on my sleeve, I do consider myself a card carrying member of the Geek Union Local 0101.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been reading articles similar to thee one by Frank Hayes. These memories go back to the mid-80’s. That’s a long time to repeatedly blame the same player for not making the championship. Mind you, IT has its faults. But so does marketing, operations, HR, finance, etc. And while I hate to wear out the sports analogy, business is a team effort. Everyone must work together.  When there’s a win, it’s a team win. And when there’s a loss a good coach will suck it up and accept responsibility. In short it’s hard to image IT being 100% responsible 100% of the time for 100% of the project that failure. Hard to believe, right?

The point I’m getting to is that Frank’s article inspired me to send him an email. I felt compelled to let him know that I found the post-game analysis of the decline of Borders very interesting. However, the perpetration of the myth that it’s always IT’s fault also needed to be addressed. Once I sent it, I figured the matter was closed. Nope! Here is the version of the letter that appeared in the 9 May 2011 print issue of ComputerWorld. Yes, I guess they do still print letters submitted by readers. So here’s another one of the record books that cleared the Editors’ Hurdle.

I enjoyed Frank Hayes’ March 7 2011 column, “Seven IT Lessons from the Collapse of Borders.” It was s great Monday morning wrap-up.

But I do take issue with one statement, where he says that “no one in IT was able to convince management to reinvent Expert.” Expert was Borders inventory management system, and Hayes points out that it was unable to scale as Borders grew.

Why is IT being made the scapegoat once again for C-level incompetence? I think that Expert’s shortcomings would have been pretty obvious. I can’t imagine that one needed an MBA to see how the system (and I’m not just talking about technology) was failing. Hayes seems to imply not only that IT staff were the only ones who could see the problem, but that IT was also the only one responsible. Really?

If the fall of Borders was IT’s fault, then what were the executives responsible for?

I’m growing tired of IT taking one for the team. And it’s one thing when Marketing and other departments pin one on IT. Let’s face it, they’re not going to admit any guilt themselves. Buy why is Frank Hayes reinforcing a myth and a stereotype?

Well said, right?

Betting the Farm on Natural and Organic Foods

“Zen Management Makes Millions” by Lee Lusardi Connor (NYReport.com, 1 February 2011). Truth be told, I still do quite a bit of reading offline. I imagine my brain has been trained to consume more comfortably and completely when I’m not always nose to screen. Admittedly,  I struggle with my lack of green-ness in this area. It’s Friday, so let’s not get too distracted.

I mention this because I wish you could see how much of this article I’ve circled, starred, drawn arrows to, etc. So rather than reiterate such a high percent of this interview I’ll just saay that if you and your organization are looking for a road map for the future that is both socially and environmentally conscious, and not just about dollar and cents, then invest some time in this article. I promise you won’t regret it.

Side note: While Applegate Farms’ Stephen McDonnell probably knows better than I do, I disagree with his presumption that the sales of natural and organic food is going to level off around 2018. To me that’s like saying that the need for all of us to eat and live healthy is going to level off. That doesn’t seem likely, does it?

Innovation Rejuvenation

“How to Restart Innovation” by CIO Executive Council (CIO.com, 14 December 2011). Great collection of ideas! But let’s be honest, this is not rocket science. That said, let’s also dig a bit deeper and harvest some additional gold from between the lines.

Starting with the Brent Hoag (VP and CIO of Diversey), there’s the famous, “If you can measure it, you can manage it.” Diversey  didn’t just say, “Let’s be innovative.” Geez, anyone can do that. The key here, they made a particular team responsible for that business need. While it’s true the whole organization should play a part in innovation, by making it someone’s responsibility it’s more likely to happen. Thinking about it is easy. Talk is cheap. The key is actually making an effort, and actually making someone accountable for it too.

Next comes Allison Redecki (Senior VP and CIO of GS1 US) and, “Tear down the silos!” Which by the way also applies to Hoag’s team. What Redecki has done is to have her people not re-actively serve their clients but to be proactive and walk in the clients’ shoes. The goal is to strive to be in a position to add value, not just regurgitate. In some ways the requests for new ideas is actually a by-product. The by-product of IT having a better understanding of what the business is doing and what it’s trying to accomplish. Without that understanding there would be no new ideas to be offered. That said, in asking for ideas (and presumably rewarding them) IT is forced to become closer immersed in their clients’ world. Silos down. Everybody wins.

And finally there’s Mark Carbrey (CIO of Cross Country Automotive Services) and their focus on The Guest Experience. His team is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating. In addition, using volunteers for such efforts not only keeps everyone engaged beyond their focus (read: it keeps them looking beyond the silos) but it also excites them. Everyone across his team is continuously a part of something new.Funny how participation gets people to well…um…participate.

The bottom line…It’s alarming how many organizations put their employees in cubicles, ask them to focus a fixed target, measure them on that, and then those same organizations are shocked when, “Think outside the box,” doesn’t produce significant innovation. If you want your team to use The Force, then you have to also give them the opportunities and inspiration to feel The Force too. Or as Chevy Chase said in Caddyshack, “Be the ball Danny.”

A Must Read Courtesy of Sir Richard Branson

“15 Small Business Lessons from Richard Branson” as reported by Ann Handley (American Express’ OpenForum.com, 23 September 2010). In a word, brilliant. So much so that nothing needs to be added.

A Spin-free Culture Will Save You Money

“Patagonia, from the ground up” by Jennifer Wang (Entrepreneur, June 2010). It’s worth mentioning that the sub-headline is: While the rest of retail was tanking, Yvon Chouinard’s outdoor clothing and gear company was having its best two years ever. Here’s why.

Regardless of economic conditions the question everyone is constantly asking is, “Where are we headed?”. Today’s answer for both the means and then ends is Patagonia. As you read you’ll quickly realize that Yvon and Patagonia live in a spin-free zone. They not only talk the talk and walk the walk, they live the life as well.   Patagonia is not successful for what it  sells or how it markets. It’s much deeper and basic than that. Patagonia is successful because of what and who it is. And in doing so, it creates its own destiny.

I can guarantee it’s not staffed by zombies who are only showing for the pay and the benefits. Might that imply that the size of great companies will be limited going forward? Yes, it certainly seems that it does. It’s often said that smaller companies are more agile. Yes, but that still doesn’t quite explain it. The true difference is the level of passion and commitment. It’s not the size that matters per se. It’s how the size makes it easier to instill the culture consistently throughout the organization.

Let’s close with a good pull quote to engage you:

EM: Why do you compare yourself–and entrepreneurs in general–to juvenile delinquents?

YC: Yeah, I think entrepreneurs are like juvenile delinquents who say, “This sucks. I’ll do it my own way.” I’m an innovator because I see things and think I can make it better. So I try it. That’s what entrepreneurs do.

So, how much budget do you think Patagonia saves not having to force their marketing to spin an image that really isn’t there?

80% is the new 100%

“Use the 80-20 Rule to Increase Your Website’s Effectiveness” by Oleg Mokhov (SixRevisions.com, 2 September 2010). While we apply the rule somewhat differently, Oleg and I are certainly in agreement. It’s the ultimate rule to follow because it can be applied to everything, not just web sites.

Three other good rules that all play well together are:

— Divide and conquer.

— You can’t be everything to all people all the time.

— How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

For example, if your business is about a particular set of core services, focus on communicating those 80% of the time. when sending an email blast target it such that it connects with the interests and expectations of 80% of your list. If the web site is about selling those services then put 80% of your time and effort into defining those pages. That’s not to say shouldn’t trust your gut and igore your hunches. Just be fully aware that you are doing so when you do.

If you get distracted by the 20% you will ultimately only dilute the 80% that really matters. Stay focused! As a general rule, as you are fine tuning X, shoot to get it 80% r complete and correct. When that dust settles, go back to the remaining 20% and attack 80% of that. And so on, and so one. As a result of focusing 100% on only 80% you will  be more effective. In addition, you and your team will  have more senses of accomplishment more often. Good motivators are always a good thing.

The bottom line is that in all likelihood you will  build a customer base such that 20% yields 80% of your business.  80% of your team will be happy 80% of the time, and so on. Now if only life were so easy.