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.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Modern Worker's Milking Cow

Micro finance loans, such as those given to the impoverished in India, are usually no more than a couple of hundred dollars. According to SKS Microfinance, a loan of $212 in India can go to the purchase of a milking cow.

The beauty of this model is that the person who bought the cow can now run a small, simple business. His mission is clear: This cow will produce the best milk India has ever tasted.

When you’re working with a cow you may have maybe twenty straightforward tasks you need to do. When you’re working in a mid-sized firm in the service sector, there are literally thousands of tasks that need to be done to keep things rolling.

When a cow is hungry, you feed it.
When your company needs cash, the accounting department calls on overdue receivables, managers fret over who they have to let go, and the sales team looks bad.

If the cow walks away, keep an eye on it.
If your company starts getting business in a market it hadn’t planned on, emergency management meetings are held, the marketing department redoes the website and collateral, and the employee mix may have to change.

At work, we all use our skill sets to add value to the firm. You may not understand everything that happens in human resources, but that’s fine. That’s not your specialty. Business is complicated and challenging. That’s just the nature of a diversified workforce and a developed economy. So when you get home after work and think that the day was pretty pointless, maybe it was. But maybe it was a day where you didn’t know it but you took care of your company in your own way.

You do not have your own cow. You have to share an amorphous, needy, temperamental cow (your firm), that is fighting with other cows (other firms), with people you did not select.

You are the modern worker.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Stick out while fitting in.

People don’t want to deviate from their normal routine.

So how do you get them to notice you? Interrupt their day? Force them to pay attention to you?

Don’t be intrusive. Don’t make them change their workflow to make time for a sales pitch.

Two examples of sticking out while fitting in:
  • You have a new product and want to spread the word. Modify your business card for a while. On one side of the card include an elevator pitch for your new product.  Later, when they’re going through their cards, they’ll remember the conversation they had with you.
  • You need to connect with a prospect that is difficult to reach. Send a personal video introduction via email. Your prospect goes through his emails just like the rest of us. And if you are lucky, he just might watch what you sent him.

Follow these steps when brainstorming for an idea like this:
  • What do you want to communicate to this person?
  • What are his common habits?
  • Where’s the spot for creativity

This is not an easy task. Madison Avenue was built on this problem.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Please, (don't) act your age.

When you were a child you absorbed information like a sponge. You laughed more. You explored the world in daring and unselfconscious ways. Remember playing in the creek?

There are many reasons why you may have lost those child-like traits. You went through difficult relationships. You had crappy jobs. Responsibilities piled up. You got a mortgage. You had kids.

This all leads to risk aversion.

But what would your life look like if you carried some of those child-like traits into adulthood?

  • Learning would be easier.
  • You would laugh more.
  • Exploring the world like a child, you would find business opportunities, personal interests, and relationships that you might have missed.

As adults, we see the world through the narrative of our past. And we let it bind us.

Do something today that scares you. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Your Tribe is Shrinking, You Have Three Options, Choose Wisely

You share 99.99% of your genes with people who lived 10,000 years ago. These people were hunter-gatherers. They banded into tribes of thirty to fifty, and could support no more. Everyone sought food, every day. They stayed lean and mobile to go where the food was.

Today, 99.99% of your genes are still in a tribe looking for food. But things have changed. There is abundance. People can remain in one place now. There is time to organize and specialize. And tribes have grown much larger. Your company is a tribe, accumulating wealth by meeting a market demand.

But over the past few years the food has been drying up in your area. Your tribe was built on the assumption of abundance, so they are unable to move. To survive they kick people out of the tribe. You are faced with three choices.

  • You can live in fear of being sacked and continue with your tasks of seeking ever scarcer food.
  • You can make a dash for another tribe.
  • You can strike out on your own, seeking food without a tribe.
Tough decision. There are a couple of things to keep in mind. Your tribe does not act in your best interest. Many other tribes are also shrinking. And the data says that a first time entrepreneur has a 20% chance at success.

Who knows which option will work. But there’s only one where you are the master of your own destiny.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Recruit Timid Employees for Sales, Ignorance is Bliss

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss and profitable.

It would be nice to get more of your people into the sales effort, but the problem is that a lot of them are timid.

Why are they timid? The fear of rejection? The fear of failure? We all have these fears. If you’re in sales, you’ve learned how to deal with them in your own way. The others need more practice. But you don’t have years to train them. You need help now.

So do two things to minimize the amount of fear they have to face. One is optional.
  • Liquid courage (optional)
  • Lower the cost of failure - Do not burden your newly minted salesmen with the knowledge that Bob Young is a prospect you’ve been chasing for years. Simply tell them Bob Young is a prospect. 
That’s right. Withhold information. This is one case where a level of ignorance will help your cause. If your new salesmen know how important Bob Young is, they’re going to get nervous when they meet him. So don’t make Bob scary.

Later, when they tell you about their conversation with Bob, tell them how you’ve been chasing him for years. That is a wonderful, empowering moment.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Which Kind of Entrepreneur are You? - A Visual Exercise

Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur? If you do, are you an analyzer or a doer? Probably both, yes? There are two extremes in the entrepreneur world. There are the people who have great ideas, but research and plan until the idea is rationalized into the “this won’t work” trash bin. These are the “aim, aim, aim,” people. Then there are the extreme doers, who dive into initiatives without proper due diligence. This second group is the “ fire, fire, fire,” group.

Confirmation bias allows an aggressive entrepreneur to rationalize greater expected returns and lower costs of failure. Therefore, they are more likely to pull the trigger sooner in the research process. At the same time, an over-analyzing entrepreneur will rationalize themselves into lower expected returns and greater costs of failure. They will spend much more money on research before going to market.  Let’s look at three graphs showing the decision process of three market actors; the “fire, fire, fire,” the “fire, aim, fire,” and the “aim, aim, aim.” The purple square is the point of indifference.

In large fixed and variable costs industries, the car business for example, somewhere between “Fire! Aim! Fire!” and “Aim. Aim. Aim.” is clearly the way to go. Mistakes are extremely costly. But with the low fixed and variable costs of much of the social technology industry, “fire, aim, fire,” is the way to go. Here are two reasons;
  • Low barriers to entry allow anyone and their dog to put business models to the test. Thus speed to market is critical.
  • The costs of failure are low enough to allow an entrepreneur to quickly recover and try something else.  This means that you have tons of competing initiatives any any given point.

At the end of the day, the power lies in knowing yourself.

Which type of entrepreneur are you? And is that the winning strategy?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Never Lose an Idea, Google App Tackles Bad Memory

Ideas come at inconvenient times. You’ll get ideas in the shower, at the doctor, or while running. What’s worse is that sometimes you’ll get two or three ideas in a row. So then just remembering them is a challenge. On days when you have a lot on your mind, you can forget an idea seconds after its conception. That’s bad.

Record your ideas immediately! You don’t need to be at your desk, ready to write an article. Do you have your phone nearby? Chances are you do.

Use your phone to get your ideas down. It seems obvious. On most phones there are notepad apps. But notepads are just notepads. Your ideas deserve more than that. Try Google Docs. It’s a great way to record your ideas.

  • Google’s documents do not default to a page view. An empty page can be intimidating.
  • Google saves your document automatically every few seconds, so just write, then turn your phone off.
  • You’ll see the progress you’re making when you can scroll up and look at the other entries you’ve made. Recording your ideas will feel productive. You may even gain momentum.

Try fleshing out the promising ideas on the same document. Eliminate the bad ones. The result will be a mass of ideas at different levels of maturity. It’s pretty neat to see. When ideas are fully developed and ready to go, you may want to take them off your idea doc. Make room for the youngsters.

          Make room for the idea.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Say Goodbye to Standalone Contact Databases

Almost. Here’s the thing. 
  • The current worker in the US stays with their employer for on an average of 4.4 years. 1 
  • As of January 7, 2011, the unemployment rate was 9.4%. 2
    • Add to this all of the people who are working under contract, and what you have is a lot of people doing a lot of moving around. And this means your contact information quickly becomes outdated.
    So, if you want to stay with a standalone database, you’re going to have to find a balance between the costs of keeping it up to date, and the number of times you hear, “He no longer works here.”

    But it’s much worse than that. Outdated information can be very damaging.
    • Mass communication problems - you won’t know who is not receiving information you feel important enough to broadcast.
    • Missed opportunities - for instance, you have a client that you speak with on average four times a year. Let’s say that contact moves to a new company. You won’t know that until the next time you call him. By then your contact may be using the company’s default supplier. And you’ve lost a growth opportunity.
    • You become reactionary - This is a world of information. If you’re constantly the last one to find things out, you won’t be around long. It is unacceptable to discover that a key contact has moved to another company from an industry periodical.
    Here’s the answer to this conundrum. Outsource your contact management to the contacts themselves! Who knows the most about your distribution partner, Edward Knickerbocker? Edward Knickerbocker, that’s who. He’s the one that is going to update his profile on Linkedin when he moves to a new company, because it’s in his best interest.

    Admittedly, I haven’t seen the right software for this yet. Linkedin is the best self-updating database for professionals there is at the moment. But there’s a snag. People are hesitant, and rightly so, to put their phone numbers on their profile. Other than that, you can download your contacts’ information and plug it into any program you want. Go to the “Contacts” tab, then click on the export connections link at the bottom right-hand side of the page. This will allow you to turn your contact information into a .csv file. You can import your contacts into a cloud program, say Salesforce or Google Contacts. From there, everyone in your organization can see the same contacts, and it’s constantly updating. Sensitive information, like phone numbers and notes will not be effected by incoming, non-conflicting fields.  It’s not a perfect solution, but one will come soon. Perhaps a permission level system built into Linkedin. We’ll see.

    In the meantime, keep cutting costs where you can. And win the information race.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Moral Hazard vs. Business 2.0

    Moral hazard can be very hard to isolate. It’s usually hidden in the moments of an employee’s day; one more email to a friend, one more news article, ten minutes to make coffee in the morning.....I hear some people do that.

    So how can a manager decrease moral hazard costs?

    •Hire more managers to look over employees’ shoulders? This merely shifts the costs of moral hazard to new personnel.

    •Implement draconian rules in the workplace? This shifts moral hazard costs to diminished employee engagement, which may be more costly than the original problem.

    •Use appropriate Business 2.0 technologies. I’ve been working with Salesforce.com a lot over the past week. The software provides employees with all the information and tools they need to take ownership of their tasks.

    Salesforce is just one example of collaborative software that gives employees more ownership over their work. Find the one that suits your organization and give it a shot. Pay attention to employee feedback. To date I haven’t seen a fit-all program for every company and situation, so you’re going to have to tweak it as you go. Good luck!

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Early Adopters in a Late Adopter Workplace

    Every Business 2.0 fan wants to be part of the action. They want their company to be fully integrated into the web via social networking and use ESSPs (Emergent Social Software Platforms) to collaborate and innovate.

    But for the majority of companies this is simply never going to happen. And the Social Business fans that are stuck in them need to either shift their perspectives, or start jogging to cope with their frustration.

    Just last week I was helping a mid-sized firm with their basic social networking efforts. I asked through email how many people had a LinkedIn account. 45% responded that they had one set up. About half of those said they never used it.

    I set up a LinkedIn company page and through some effort I got 32% of the company properly affiliated with the firm. I had to walk around to each person’s station to help them with their accounts.

    One key manager told me that he just wasn’t going to start an account. No explanation followed. And I didn’t ask for one.

    Things weren’t going well. Would an executive mandate get things going? It’s always tempting to use authority to push change. However, I recommended that the CEO lead by example and continually express interest in everyone using LinkedIn.

    This company was full of late adopters. Even if the CEO mandated more social networking, most of the employees would modify their behaviors just enough to avoid trouble. And as soon as they weren’t being watched, they would return to the status quo.

    Manage your expectations or you are bound to find yourself in moments of frustration. This is easier said than done. If you are a new Business 2.0 fan, buy some jogging shoes.