Friday, February 3, 2012

Kitchen Sink Game Theory

Every company has people who avoid responsibility. Just look at the kitchen sink. There are probably cups in there that should be in the washer. Some people think that their one cup won't bother anyone. But, then everyone follows suit and someone gets stuck with the responsibility of doing the dishes. 

Game Theory is Alive and Well in the Kitchen

It's a modified version of the prisoner's dilemma. For those not familiar with this experiment, let me explain by using a classic example.

Two criminals are caught and brought into a police station, where they are separated for questioning. The criminals are given two choices; rat out their accomplice, or remain silent.

  • If both criminals work together and remain silent, they each get one year in jail.
  • If criminal A rats out criminal B, and criminal B remains silent, criminal B goes to jail for 5 years and criminal A gets off free.
  • If both criminals rat each other out, they both go to jail for 3 years.

Kitchen Sink Game Theory is as Follows

Employee A and employee B are separated by time and must decide whether to leave dishes in the sink or in the washer. Their decisions, together, decide who has to put in the most effort to keeping the sink clean.

  • If both employees put their dishes in the washer, it's easy and you have a clean sink for all to enjoy.
  • If employee A leaves dishes in the sink, and employee B does not, you have a messy sink and employee B is stuck doing the dishes.
  • If both employees leave their dishes in the sink, you have a messy sink.
What's worse is that if employees see they're the only ones putting dishes in the sink, they'll stop, because they're sick of being the sucker.

Keeping a Clean Sink

Using the stick won't work. Fear is temporary, and the behavior you want to eliminate reappears as soon as people are left unobserved. Instead, you have to build a culture of working together. This is community building. And the kitchen sink can be a good indicator of the health of your group.

As a leader, you can;
  • Lead by example. Put your dishes in the washer. Every now and then put all the dishes in the washer.
  • Give positive feedback to those who take responsibility for their own dishes.
  • Communicate your desired behavior through different mediums. Sometimes very responsible people simply aren't aware of the cultural norms you're trying to achieve. Educate them.
  • Measure behavior and make results visible. It's amazing how much something changes as soon as it is measured.

Of course, you could always do what my friend's firms did, eliminate glass altogether and making people use styrofoam cups and paper plates.

Feel free to respond with your kitchen sink stories.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Tough Life of a Business Idea

We all have business ideas. They come to us when we're jogging, taking a shower, or hopped up on caffeine at the cafe. But what becomes of these ideas? How do they go from a "what if..." to a full blown commercial success? Well, they have to run a gambit where most of them will die off.  Here's a fun graph that many of us will recognize.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Innovation Takes Center Stage, Living Standards Will Rise

There was a bet made in 1980 over the future prices of  copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten. Julian Ehrlich bet that prices would increase, because population growth would outstrip supply. Julian Simon disagreed, claiming that prices would actually decrease. Even though between 1980 and 1990, the world's population rose by 800 million people, the price of each metal fell. Tin, sold for $8.72 a pound in 1980, was going for $3.88 in 1990.

Why did the prices drop? As the price of a resource rises, people find ways to either stretch the resource further or abandon it entirely for a substitute. As demand for plumbing and telecommunications networks grew during the said decade, better and cheaper alternatives to copper were used more often. Fiber optics became a major part of communication networks and plastics were used more widely in plumbing.

When, broadly speaking, people are faced with constraints, they innovate to make things work. That is what we're going to see that over the next five years.

The resource constraints that are upon us will be met by innovative technologies that will keep our standard of living, on average, in a state of improvement.

A perfect example of this today would be Square, the credit card reader a vender can plug into his phone's headphone jack. A small business owner can now accept credit card payments with no hardware costs. He just pays a credit card fee, like the big boys do.

Square is a brilliant way to lower the barrier to entry to the retail and restaurant markets. I live in Austin, Texas, and we now have a thriving community of food trailers. The people of Austin benefit because of the wide selection of food. The people in the food trailers benefit because they are earning an income.

We will see many more technologies meeting constraints that are becoming increasingly palpable.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Deadly Semantics of Austerity

Many world leaders are calling for a period of "austerity." A workable definition of austerity is "severe or strict in manner; having no comforts or luxuries." Austerity is an absolute. There's no room for hope. It's a word that says, "Give up."

Angela Merkel of Germany, Enda Kenny of Ireland, and David Cameron of Britain have all declared that they are going to enter a period of austerity to pay for their excessive borrowing in the past. This is a noble gesture, I think, that can also be incredibly painful, depending on how healthy you were when you started. Life is very difficult in Ireland right now. 40,000 people have fled the country in 2011 in search of a better life elsewhere.   

When governments cut spending there is going to be pain, but I contend that instead of telling people they will have no comforts or luxuries for the next five to ten years, simply state,

"The public sector is going to be fiscally responsible. Let's make this work."

That simple change in language invites innovation and possibilities. The challenges remain the same, but we are no longer at the affect of the economy. The economy is what it is, now what? What are we going to do about it?

Are you aware of the language you use on a day-to-day basis in your professional life? Small changes can have dramatic effects. Always leave the door open for innovation.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why You Should Be Interested In Community Management

The Creation of a Community

A year ago I created The Leaky Wiki, a community-based, parody news site. Here's a quick way to describe it. Think “The Onion,” but with content created by a community of writers.

I co-developed the site with a guy in Omsk, Russia, through oDesk. He was 12 hours ahead of me, so when I was settling in for the night I was also passing on development requests. During the development phase I wrote all of the articles, learned social marketing the hard way, and got dumped by my girlfriend for lack of attention. 

The Creation of a Community Manager

My body and mind were crumbling under the weight of doing everything alone. Thankfully there was a point where I had three other people writing for the site. I kept writing, but I started putting energy into encouraging the other writers. Without them, I would be back writing everything myself. That’s when I shifted from being the community creator to being a community manager.

Now, eight months later, The Leaky Wiki is getting 15k unique user visits a month. There is a small, dedicated group of people doing most of the writing, voting, and editing. If someone wants to take on responsibility, I give him or her a chance. If it doesn’t work out, we talk about it and make adjustments. If there is turbulence in the forum, I watch to make sure it is resolved diplomatically.  Amazingly, the less I intervene, the more people step up as leaders.

My role now is to I make sure every-day community tasks are being taken care of. I work with the community to improve the site’s features. And I facilitate personal growth through delegating important tasks and coaching from a distance.

Why Community Management?

  • People depend on you.
  • It’s a challenging role.
  • You are in the position to facilitate personal growth.
  • Your community will amaze and surprise you.
  • You are always learning from people in the community.
  • You co-create products with end-users.
  • You’re right in the middle of emergent behavior in the new, massively networked world.
  • If you enjoy social technology, this is the place to be. (see what Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, has to say in this blog post)
Online communities are the centerpiece of social media. When you think about the goals of social media (or social business as a whole, for that matter), building relationships among people is critical. Online communities are the ultimate manifestation of relationship-building activities. They are the best way to build deep online relationships with the people and organizations that matter to your company – customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and others.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Job Descriptions are Holding You Back

Think of a job description as a square hole that a company wants filled.

All of our lives we’ve been taught to cater to these job descriptions. That’s why you tailor your resume to make it look like you're the perfect fit. You strive for those extra credentials that will make you "stand out." You go to the right schools to be the perfect candidate.

And then comes a recession, and you may be 99% the perfect fit for a job, but someone else fits better. You are told over the phone that out of a thousand candidates, they only offered ten positions and all accepted. Of course they accepted.

Surely this is enough to make you angry. You’ve spent your entire life working hard in good schools, holding jobs and going to school at night, honing your skills, honing your resume to fit the job description that Corporate America puts on their websites.

Waiting for Corporate America to give you a chance is self-demeaning. Behind that web-site, behind the lavish corporate lobby is a person, aged anywhere between 25 and 35, saying yes or no. You are nothing more than a number. He doesn’t know who you are. He doesn’t understand the intangibles that you would bring the firm. You’re just another desperate face, assuming someone sees your face, trying your hardest to be what they want you to be.

I’m going to suggest that you forget about job descriptions and just be you. Stop begging firms to let you in. If you’re already seasoned in your industry and a firm won’t let you in, take their clients! You can give their clients more attention, and you can do it for a cheaper price. If you’re not a seasoned player yet, think wide. What venture can you start or join? What do you like to do? Corporate America won’t have you? Too bad for them. Go make something happen ON YOUR OWN.

By the way, there’s no shame in holding a crappy job while your working on getting other things going. Don’t believe the people who say you have to “dive in full time or don’t do it at all.” The reality is that you still need to eat while other things develop.

This will be my last entry for a while. I may write some here and there, but the flow of a new post once a week is going to stop. A couple of side projects, like I was talking about above, have started to come to life and require massive amounts of attention. I enjoy writing so I won’t be gone forever. Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Competition vs Collaboration

I had the pleasure of hearing Derek Neighbors, of Gangplank, and Kristie Wells speak on a panel at SXSW about their philosophy on collaborating with others. Someone in the audience asked the panel, "at what point is it okay to tell others about my business ideas."  The fear being that someone might run off with them and make a lot of money.

Kristie Wells answered that if you wouldn't have the person over to dinner at your house, then be cautious.

Derek had a decidedly different answer.
Know what you want,
know where you’re going,
and always look for people who can help you along the way.

Then the panel asked the audience to turn to someone they didn't know and introduce themselves. Afterwards the panel asked if any connections had been made. A guy close to the front stood up. "Yeah, this guy is in my field and he's exactly who I needed to meet at this conference."  Everyone loved this.

My opinion lies somewhere in the middle. Be selective with whom you share vital details, but spread the word about the mission you're on. With tools such as Linkedin, networking is more powerful than ever. But there are plenty of sharks out there, especially when money is involved.