8 posts categorized "October 2011"

October 28, 2011

How's The Conversation Going @ Work These Days?

Today, I spoke at a conference for radio executives on the topic of Leadership. 

In their industry, there's a lot of change, turbelence and economic uncertainty.  Digital is ripping a new one in their lives.  Last night, I heard quite a bit of talk about recent layoffs and dour predictions about ad spend.  

I challenged the group this morning to change the conversation when they got home from the Bad News to the Get Busy News.  It's a remarkably different conversation that leads to opportunity analysis instead of fear based paralysis. 

Here's the punch line: Culture is a conversation, led by leaders, about 1) How Things Are Going and 2)How Things Are Done Around Here.  If the conversation induces fear, the scarcity mindset sets in and the culture becomes "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?" or "Let's build a survival silo."  When that happens innovation stops and top talent quits (even if they technically stay on the job). 

So, I challenge you to do the same: Stop talking about the Bad News and, instead, talk about the solutions you can build, assets you can leverage and opportunities that change is creating.  You'll be amazed at how the spirit of your group changes.  You'll be rewarded with better treatment of your people by managers.  

Tweet this via @SandersSays: Culture Is A Conversation...How's Your's Going? 


October 26, 2011

Why I Ordered The New Shabazz Palaces CD From My Local Record Shop Instead Of Amazon

Yeah, that's right, even though I'm an Amazon Prime customer, I ordered a CD from a record store. 

Then, after the owner called me to say it had arrived, I stopped at the store to pay him and get my product.  Hassle?  Maybe.  Paid a little more? Sure thing.  Sorry? Nope, made me feel great to support Freakbeat Records

I think we all need to do more of this, especially for the record stores that struggle to stay open, watching their best customers download records on their iPhone (really!).  

I still listen to CDs in my car for several reasons: My iPod was recently lifted by either a valet guy or the cash wash crew.  Even then, it was a real hassle to dial up albums in the console (most cars don't yet have the iPod functionality worked out well, yet).  I like to listen to entire CDs, not just playlists, and my iPod was detracting me from that.  

Freakbeat deserves my loyalty because they merchandise indie-records to me, bring in hard-to-find records (Funk, Regional Blues, etc.) AND they buy back my CDs, as well as sell me used ones at a discount to even iTunes.  Likely your local record/book/magazine shop does too.  If you aren't 100% digitized, don't resort to the online Wal-Mart solution (AKA Amazon) when you could support a local merchant that slogs into work everyday to add some value to your life. 


October 20, 2011

How Often Does Your Team Have A Process Check?

If you want to create a great company, conduct "What's broken?" meetings often. 

Twice a month, gather your team (company, project, group) to discuss the sanity and solvency of 'the processes' that you pour yourself and your customers into to.  It could be the process by which orders are placed, processed, delivered and/or accounted for.  It could the process by which you ask for, receive, spend and/or account for your budget.  

You know, those damn TPS reports from Office Space! 

There are other processes: How do we communicate?  What do we do when things go wrong or someone complains? These are less linear, but, just the same, can be broken or poorly designed. 

Think about it this way: A real leaders-manager-owner realizes that whenever a person or a group fails, it's always the result of an ineffective process.  Yes, sometimes people screw it up on-purpose or through a lack of focus - but in the end they got on the team through your hiring process!  

And, nothing is more demoralizing than to be a high-function person working inside a broken process.  I can't tell you how many times I've seen great engineers at Yahoo dial-out in frustration after trying to work through our various Byzentine Project Labayrinths back in they day.  This is likely what the Google Engineer Rant was all about.  

So have a bi-monthy meeting just to discuss the processes that impact a project or a group's efforts. Focus on less-than-expected results, and to take a page from The Lean Startup, ask "Why?" five times, digging deeper into the REAL reason the goal couldn't be achieved.  As a leader, don't let your people convert this Five-Why drill into the Five-Blames drama (Eric Ries in this blog post warns this will happen a lot and it's never productive).  Culture is a conversation, led by leaders, about the-way-things-are-done-around-here.  And meetings count. 

Remember, we criticize the outcome and process, not the people.  We treat the process as a thing, and all of us as people with motivations, limitations...and emotions.  We realize that 'the way we do it' is completely arbitrary, usually hatched out of anecdotal experience and rarely crafted on real data.  

Don't worry, you aren't creating a free for all bitch session, unless your process needs a serious overhaul.  Just focus on making the changes as far upstream as possible - starting at HQ.  You'll be surprised how easy it makes regular meetings, and how empowering this innovation-centric approach is for your people.  Besides, to be a great company, you've got to iterate often.  And that relies not just on flexibility in business model, but a limber approach to the myriad processes that run it. 


October 18, 2011

A Platformized Product Will Always Win

Yesterday, I had the blessing of reading an essay by Steve Yegge, a long time Google Engineer.

The essay will surprise, inform and likely inspire you.  Read: Steve Yegge's Platform Rant.

Between Amazon and Google, he's got about thirteen years of in-the-trenches experiences working on services based platforms that we use on a routine business.  The essay uncovers previously unknown details about the two company's technology, internal policies and culture.  There are some true gold nuggets in his writing such as: 

1. The Secret for Amazon was Bezos' edict in 2002 that the entire company go on a SOA (Services Oriented Architecture) ASAP or get fired.  You were required to use the services system to ask for ANYTHING, no more emails and handshake services deals.  With that, came the discipline they needed to win or as Steve writes, "SOA-oriented design enbales Platforms." (Yes, he capitalizes Platform like Bezos capitalizes Customers in his essays.) 

2. Accessibility is the #1 user-value.  Steve puts it like this: "I'm not really sure how Bezos came to this realization -- the insight that he can't build one product and have it be right for everyone. But it doesn't matter, because he gets it. There's actually a formal name for this phenomenon. It's called Accessibility, and it's the most important thing in the computing world. The. Most. Important. Thing." (Love this style, like Justin Halperin uses for emphasis in Shit My Dad Says.)

He goes on to make a brilliant point about Access VS Security: "Like anything else big and important in life, Accessibility has an evil twin who, jilted by the unbalanced affection displayed by their parents in their youth, has grown into an equally powerful Arch-Nemesis (yes, there's more than one nemesis to accessibility) named Security. And boy howdy are the two ever at odds. But I'll argue that Accessibility is actually more important than Security because dialing Accessibility to zero means you have no product at all, whereas dialing Security to zero can still get you a reasonably successful product such as the Playstation Network." (Nice dig dude.  You could write for HuffPo with that attitude.)

3. [Services] products need platforms to scale and succeed. This is Web 3.0 thinking, and he couldn't be more spot on.  Here's how he explained it: "A product is useless without a platform, or more precisely and accurately, a platform-less product will always be replaced by an equivalent platform-ized product." He continues, and this is where it gets juicy: "Google+ is a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms from the very highest levels of executive leadership (hi Larry, Sergey, Eric, Vic, howdy howdy) down to the very lowest leaf workers (hey yo). We all don't get it. The Golden Rule of platforms is that you Eat Your Own Dogfood. The Google+ platform is a pathetic afterthought."

If you aren't already compelled to stop, read this article and learn a lot about what's coming next, you aren't serious about the web/tech/mobile/social game.  One other note: This entire rant is still up on Google+, and the host (Steve already took the post down) claims he'd remove it with ONE request - which still hasn't come from Google Legal.  That speaks volumes about the open culture of spirited debate at Google.  

This is the best thing I've seen leaked since the Peanut Butter Manifesto went viral in Yahoo-lore.  

October 13, 2011

Now is the time to make your bold move!

Screen Shot 2011-10-13 at 5.23.26 PM
Today, I challenged my audience to embrace the opportunity that a recession offers us all. 

Whoa!??? That was their first response.  They were used to hearing this spin from politicians, trying to deflect blame for misery by uttering the O-Word.  But not from a leadership coach, who argues that our role is to define reality then give hope. 

But the research is on my side.  Take the article Hanging Tough, which I've been touting for two years now. It reviews research on every recession since 1901 and reveals some of the boldest moves ever made in US Business History: The launch of Rice Krispies, Miracle Whip and Chevy (all in the 30's). The launch of the iPod in Oct 2001 (the double whammy of the dotcom bust and 9/11).  The rise of Hyndai in 2009 and 2010, doubling down with new products and aggressive advertising. 

Why were all these moves prescient? Because, as Mark Cuban once said, "Recessions are the great equalizer.  Everyone is a genius in a Bull Market."  He's right too.  Recessions usually start because of a technical breakdown in an industry (tech in 2011, mortgage/stocks in 2008, so on).  Then the impact ALWAYS spreads to every industry and no company is immune to the shrinkage.  

Too often, though, we have blinders on - thinking that we are alone in our misery.  The fact is that your competition is hurting too, and likely, they are in survial mode.  Cutting budgets, waiting to see if there's a double dip coming, laughing at you when you introduce a disruptive produce or launch a startup.  The point is, they are watching you, not responding to you like they did in better times.

And that's why the time is now.  You have a chance to try someone 'under the radar' - and perhaps leapfrog your bigger competitors with more to lose.  Try this in a few years when the economy is humming again and watch your innovations get copied, scaled faster via deep pockets and pummeled.  

Here's the way to balance it all: Form a mastermind group of trusted sources of financial and technical market strength.  Bootstrap everything you can, and execute-learn-improve your new ideas as publicly as possible to steal mindshare.  Harness collective fear as your shield, and take advantage of today - because today you are rich in opportunity to be the Phoenix and not the Fodder. 


October 11, 2011

Instead of asking, "how's it going," try this instead!

In any turbulent time period, like now, asking "how's it going" will often bait a negative response. 

"Just hanging in there," is a consistent reply.  "Trying to survive" is pretty typical.  And then the conversation goes south, focusing on lack, worry and dread.  In my latest book, Today We Are Rich, I talk about how important it is for us to lead the conversation forward. 

Talking about how bad the economy is constitutes a sideways conversation.  You cannot be afraid enough of the future to make it better - in fact, you'll often make it worse!  

Dale Carnegie trained his YMCA students in the 30's to ignite positive conversations by opening with "what's the good word?".  It changes the conversation, the mood and the direction of the talk. You could also ask people the following: 

1 - What are enthused about these day? 

2 - What are your working on these days? 

3 - Tell me something intersting, I'm dying to hear about something new and cool. 

In each instance, you'll discover how critical the conversation starter question is to the tone of everything to follow.  Leaders need to lead conversations into a place of solution, hope and constructive thinking.  It's a question of where we point our minds!  As Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once wrote, "If you can worry, you can visualize success." 


October 06, 2011

What Is Your Ripple Effect?

Apple genius #1 Steve Jobs had quite an impact on my family's life.  A ripple effect. 

More like a Tsunami, in that his equipment helped me write Today We Are Rich and his business concept has provided employment for my son for over four years.  Even though we can't all be Steve Jobs, reweaving the fabric of society, we CAN have a meaningful ripple effect. 

No matter who you are, your life makes a difference.  Someone is watching you, experiencing what you create and living through your wake.  You are not insignificant now, or into the future.  So don't act like it - take responsiblity today to be the ripple you want to see in the world. 

Think of it this way: You throw things into the world, like rocks into a pond.  Some may cut the water like a knife and disappear with little impact.  But there are still little circles that eminate out, no rock can cut the water's surface perfectly without leaving a trace. 

In my life, I've been a part of the ripple of others, and all my work I owe to them.  From my grandmother Billye, to my first big boss Bob Cione to my fave author Leo Buscaglia to an early speaking mentor Tom Peters - all of them changed me and helped me change the world. 

There are two things you can do to unleash your ripple effect:

1 - Define your higher values, influence others through your example.  If you are a Greenie or a Community Builder, then go out into the world and influence through your actions.  This is what drove the heros in my Timberland Story "The Ripple Effect" video.  Think of your spoken words as pebbles, some as big as golf balls.  Think of your actions as rocks, some as big as boulders.  Every once in a while, someone actually hurls a boulder into the pond and the ripple goes very far. 

2 - Pass along your knowledge and wisdom.  Your life experiences are important, because you've achieved verified learning.  You know the ropes, even if they are only for the front door.  You should always have a mentee, that you are sharing your insights and advice with.  You should always have a graduation date with him or her, so they can push the ripple out there further.  

For those that worry that sharing your precious knowledge will somehow drain you, I quote one of my mentors, Stanley Marcus Jr.: "You will never get dumber by making someone else smarter." Pass it on.  


October 04, 2011

When to Keep it a Hobby

Normally, Sanders Says is all me.  But to celebrate a great new book, I'm turning over the reigns to Alexandra for a guest post that I'm sure you'll gain great value from…


Alexandra Levit, Author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success

Blind-Spots-Cover One of the major problems with “do what you love, the money will follow” is that often the things we genuinely love to do don’t pay anything.  These activities start off as hobbies, and perhaps they should stay that way.

Because there is no specific market demand for the products or services that arise from many hobbies, businesses associated with these hobbies tend to be unprofitable.  For example, my next door neighbor creates brilliant collages from different types of paper, but because she knows that few people would spend the money to hang a collage in the living room, she maintains a stable career as a restaurant manager.   

In his article for Entre-Propel.com, Matt Thomas says that hobbies don’t always translate into jobs.  “There is no guarantee that a hobby will translate into a set of tasks that you enjoy.  Let’s pretend you enjoy keeping fish as pets.  Does caring for fish mean you will enjoy running a retail store?  You might hate writing about fish, teaching about fish care or installing fish tank equipment for customers,” he writes.  “Turning a hobby into a business may ruin the fun of it.  Pursuing what you love for gain may lead you to perform work relatedtasks that you hate.”

Thirty-six-year-old Monique Harris is a counselor by trade.  She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area at a time when you could still see the sea lions lounging on the pier at Fisherman’s Wharf every weekend, and she pursued her education at the California State University, East Bay.  Monique has always been passionate about photography.  “My dad bought me my first camera when I was 11, and boy did I have fun clicking away and alternating between the limited zooming options,” she says.  “When I got older, though, I realized that owning my own camera isn't so exciting when (a) I have to pay to get the film developed and (b) I did notreceive a weekly allowance.” 

Monique admits that she was discouraged from pursuing photography as a full time career because of the competitiveness of the field and the expense of training.  Now a working mom who travels frequently for her job, she recognizes the need for a creative outlet, but she’s not willing to make all the sacrifices and life changes that will be required for a professional photography career.  “This summer, I decided to purchase my first SLR camera, but I don’t have the most expensive equipment.  I shoot people at their homes to avoid the costs of studio lighting,” she says.  “I love having this hobby outside my 9-to-5.  It reminds me of how important it is to have balance in my life instead of giving all my energy to work and family.”

Monique may not make a boatload of money from photography, but she doesn’t need to.  She values the role she plays in the education sector and the financial rewards that come with it.   


Want to learn more about how you can protect your career from myths like “do what you love and the money will follow”?  Check out Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success (Penguin/Berkley, October 2011).