EMPOWERMENT

A story about Canada Post.

I have two parcels shipping from Vancouver to Toronto express – 2 day delivery. Unfortunately, the shipper accidentally sent one of the parcels via Canada Post and the other via UPS. The second I saw Canada Post I rang them and tried to stop them – but it was too late. Both had left the building.

In my mind, I just knew that the UPS parcel would get there just fine and the Canada Post “Express Post” parcel would have a problem. Sure enough, the UPS parcel was on time. 9AM at the doorstep. Where is the Canada Post parcel?

A quick check of the tracking website:

Canada Post

So I call. This is the condensed version of the conversation:

Me: “Why is my parcel at the post office, when I paid extra to have it delivered to my door?”

Her: “Because the shipper does not require a signature for delivery”

Me: “Pardon?”

Her: “Because the shipper did not click the box and require a signature for delivery, we do not deliver it to your door”

Me: “So, because they did not require a signature which means you can just drop it off because you do not have to make multiple trips to get that signature, you will not deliver it?”

Her: “Correct. Plus, it will not fit in your mailbox”  (It is a 13lbs package).

Me: “Ok, but there is someone there. Right now. All day. And you guaranteed delivery so please deliver it to my front door just like UPS and FedEx. That is why I paid extra.”

Her: “I can’t without my supervisors permission”

Me: “You can’t make that decision”

Her: “No”

I feel bad for Canada Post employees – that they are not trusted to make the right decisions, for the benefit of the customer, at that moment. Certainly not the Four Seasons model.

They wonder why they lost $193M last year? It is pretty obvious to me.

A VIEW ON JAPANESE BUSINESS CONSERVATISM

I was having lunch with a new acquaintance who has been in Japan for 4 years. We were comparing notes on what it is like to live in Japan and do business (It is his first international assignment).

When we discussed the future of the country and the significant challenges ahead (e.g. declining population, competitive threats, etc.) we came to the ultra-conservative, risk adverse culture. He shared his view on Japanese business conservatism (I paraphrase):

Japan is like the children of a rich, entrepreneurial father (Male terms are used as Japan has yet to have true feminist political or cultural progress). That father (post World War II Japan) had to pull himself out of the rubble, band together with other fathers and drive success despite significant challenges. That father had to work hard, innovate and drive out a significant competitive advantage against fierce global competition.

That father built an empire and got rich. Very rich. (Think of how afraid business was of Japan in the 80s).

And that father passed that wealth on to his children. They enjoyed a very nice lifestyle, good schools, travelled the world and came to enjoy the best of the best (Japanese are some of the world’s biggest luxury goods spenders)

Now the father has passed the torch and that 2nd generation has taken over the business. There are a few who make the business more successful, there are some who ruin it but the vast majority simply maintain it. They are so worried about losing what they have – the lifestyle they have become use to, the success that is their father’s history, the legacy of passing that wealthy and lifestyle down to their children – that they do not take risks, they do not innovate. They become the ultra-conservatives, maintaining the business out of fear of losing it all.

The problem is that around every corner is that first generation father who is starting with nothing. Who has the same drive as the post WWII Japanese father, is willing to take risks, innovate and build a competitive advantage. Fighting to build something for his family (China, Korea). The conservative 2nd generation views the competitor as uncouth and rough in their approach. They are well educated, the competitor is not. They have a position of financial strength, the competitor is building that. They are willing to work hard to continue their parent’s legacy of Japanese quality and engineering excellence, in many cases over engineering as they continue to improve on things that do not need to be improved. Their competitor is willing to sacrifice quality for volume (China) or has successfully figured out how to deliver quality at a good price (Korea).

They band with the other 2nd generation peers at the country club to discuss the up-and-comers. They discuss not wanting to compromise to compete (e.g. reduce engineer quality or service levels to be price competitive). That is the path of their fathers, the path they must follow, the honorable path. The safe path.

But that next generation is banging at the door of the country club. They want to introduce their children to that which they never had.

The banging on the country club door gets louder every day …

Sadly, his story reminded me of the day that I learned about the Horray Henry. The question is, will Japan’s business leaders realize the need for innovation, change and risk before it is too late?

A JAPANESE SENSE OF HONOUR

As I have mentioned before, the Japanese culture is one of poles – the very ahead and the very behind.

The sense of honour in Japan is one for the “very good” column and last week I gained some first hand insight. To understand the business culture of Japan you need to understand what happened after World War II, as the US and Japan partnered to rebuild the country, companies came together to rebuild in the form of Keiretsu’s. Via.

Keiretsu are groups of companies that work together, trying not to compete with one another and cooperating in order to make more money together. After many years of this sort of collaboration, Toyota has become the world’s number one automobile company. Toyota’s lead is so strong it made five times more money in 2006 than the sum of the profits made by its eight most direct competitors.

Over the six big keiretsu (each of them controlled by one important bank) is the MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry). The MITI is considered the ministry with greatest direct influence over the country’s economy, because it has the standing to give direct orders to certain keiretsu, asking them to double their production for the following months or to help this or that sector come out of a crisis.

In practice, the Japanese companies work together and often talk about the greater good. They will compete, but at their core they think about their country and the success of all.

To illustrate, I was speaking with an executive from a large Japanese manufacturer and I mentioned that I owned many of their products but had also bought an “add-on” from one of their competitors. His response was surprising. He thanked me for buying their products and encouraged me to buy his competitors products.

Why? Because that company had a factory in the earthquake stricken Japanese north and had decided to keep their factory open to support the people of the region. It was a very honourable thing to do, with a great leader who make great products. He was very happy that I had bought their products.

In that way, we can learn much from the Japanese. Their sense of the group over the individual is admirable.image

A YOUNG MAN IN A BEIJING ELEVATOR

I was in the elevator at the Westin in Beijing the other day and looked over to see this young man standing beside me.

It was clear he was right out of college (or a couple years out), Tumi bag in hand (Excellent choice, mine is 10 years old and still looks new despite 1M miles) and heading out for the day. I had to ask …

He was recruited by Boston Consulting out of University, lives in Shanghai and is working in China.

For the majority of people in this world they don’t achieve their full potential simply because they cannot see what is possible. I did not understand that fully until my mid-20s. The only guidance I was every given is “You must go to University”, nothing else.

So each time, the boundaries would be pushed and it was big, open territory. For many, it is like the elephant and the rope.

As a man was passing the elephants, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at anytime, break away from their bonds but for some reason, they did not.

He saw a trainer nearby and asked why these animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away. “Well,” trainer said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”

Anything is possible. You just have to envision it, build a plan and execute. Failure along the way is inevitable. Nothing worthwhile is easy.

2013 03 25 Elephant safari   _-50

But anything is possible in this world. Our world is flat; video conferencing via Skype, cheap flights to anywhere, Google Translate ….. It gets easier to connect globally every day.

Something our children have learned first hand. It will be interesting to see what they choose to do with that. Hopefully it involves an elevator in China.

I would be interested to hear the stories of others ….

LOST IN TRANSLATION

 

I have heard this term used a lot recently. In the UK I often heard “separated by a common language”.

Recently the “lost in translation” point was used by one team trying to interpret the emails and Chatter posts of another team as they tried to work through an issue electronically – and unsuccessfully. A team member picked up the phone and even with a language barrier they found out that there was no issue – both teams were on the same page.

The phone and video conference. Magic old fashioned devices that solves so many problems so quickly …..

PERSUADE

 

From Wired – Persuade Someone:

There’s a science and an art to persuasion. Researchers at the U of Michigan analyzed the speech of 100 interviewers as they tried to persuade people to participate in a survey. Here’s what they learned.

TALK FAST:  Researchers found that optimal persuasive speed is a little faster than normal – about 3.5 words per second. Hyperspeed can sound shady, and slow-talkers come across as dull or didactic. (Note: Odd – Seems everyone coaches … slow down)

TAKE A BREATH: Interviewers who spoke perfectly were the least likely to hook a listener. It’s best to pause about every 20 seconds.

MIND YOUR PITCH: Get enthused but be wary of being too boisterous. Men who varied their pitch a lot were less persuasive that those who didn’t. But women who varied their pitch were more successful that those (women) who didn’t. As with men, a lower pitch also helped slightly, which was a surprise, because research has shown that higher female voices are viewed as more attractive.”

Interesting.

TRANSPARENCY IN HIRING

 

When you read about hiring in companies you often hear the old adage “Hire slow, fire fast” or “A hiring mistake costs you 18 months”. What I have never heard is how detrimental a non-standard, poorly thought out hiring practice can be on morale.

Case in point: I was speaking with a colleague the other day about an interview loop that he went through and how disappointed he was. He wasn’t disappointed by the outcome (not getting the role), he was disappointed with the process; specifically the 1/2 an interview that he was granted to compete for the role. He left that short interview feeling that the company did not take his candidacy seriously. The disappointment lead to resentment and eventually, his leaving the company.

Unfortunately, it is not the first time I have heard about this happening. In fact, I have heard about it happening an alarming number of times, for a range of reasons;

    • The hiring manager is predisposed to a candidate.
    • The hiring manager believes that they can select candidates with only one interview due to their superhuman ‘intuition’ (Never the case).
    • There is a belief that you must have an external candidate, for reasons such as industry knowledge.

In all cases, internal candidates are left wondering – why didn’t I get a shot at that job? If I am getting good reviews, why is this person better than me? And ultimately, they make it harder for the new hire as that person will face some form of resentment from the disillusioned.

Keeping this in mind, I try to adhere to this form of transparent hiring process to ensure equity and most importantly – a strong competition for the role so that the best candidate wins:

  • All roles are posted for a minimum of one week. Everyone sees what is going on.
  • All internal applicants must have approval from their current manager to apply for a job. This seems like common sense, but I am always surprised by how often this rule needs to be enforced – with candidate managers being surprised. I often find myself wondering about the quality of a manager who does not know that their employee is seeking an internal role elsewhere.
  • Every qualified candidate requires a minimum of 2 interviews to ensure that a single person’s opinion is not disqualifying a candidate.
  • Senior hiring cycles should go through multiple phases. The first 2 interviews to create a short list with a second stage of 3-5 additional interviews to complete selection. This accomplishes three things: It provides a wide range of input, builds support for the individual in the new role with key stakeholders and puts in place enough rigour to improve the odds of selecting the best candidate.
  • Internal candidates get special attention to their interview cycles to ensure equity with a few key guidelines:
    • If their manager supports their pursuing the role and their performance/ratings/ tenure support their pursuit of the role then they must get the 2 interview cycle.
    • Regardless of outcome, all internal candidates must get a debrief on why they did not get the role so that they can understand what has happened and be equipped with points that can contribute to their long term development.
    • If the candidate’s current manager knows that the individual is not ready for the role but sees benefit in putting the candidate through the cycle, then it should be completed. I have seen this done a number of times and it is an effective development opportunity. For example: A candidate may only be in current role for 1 year but anxious for the next role. By running through the interview process and getting feedback on what they need to work on, from someone other than their current manager, it can provide a level set and great insight into where they need to develop for the long term.
  • Where possible, interviewing managers should be provided with as much insight as possible prior to the interview: CV and other data points, such as the Predictive Index and in the case of internals; previous reviews.

The end result should be that those who are not selected get feedback that they can action and while they will probably be disappointed at not getting the role, they cannot question the process and the fact that they had a fair shot at winning.

Morale is protected and the best candidate wins.

READING

 

Why I like to read all kinds of books … and why I always encourage people to read business books.

Any fool can learn from his mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

Otto von Bismarck

IF YOU CAN’T SMILE AT THIS TIME OF YEAR ….

 

I love this time of the year. Holiday music is everywhere .. the food seems to be better. Sure, there are the year end pressures but there is also opportunity at every turn to find something fantastic. How can you not find yourself smiling?

I found myself wondering about that question at a recent lunch. I was early and observed a smiling rep and his Blackberry carrying, email sending, frowning manager. The customer arrived and the rep engaged but the manager/executive never broke the frown. Had I been his client, I would have simply expedited the lunch to get out of there. It looked painful. I felt like walking up to him and saying ‘Smile, it is the holidays and this is your customer!”

I remember when I first moved to the UK, I had someone comment that they thought it was odd that I smiled so much. We control our mental state … so why not smile? Especially at this time of year.

Smile.

A NEW HOLIDAY LOW

 

Today I received an e-holiday card from an old client and colleague from Europe. On a personal note, I am not a big fan of e-cards simply because my email is cluttered enough and it lacks the personal – handwritten touch. But to each his own.

What sets this e-card apart was the sent from header in the email.

(His assistants name) on behalf of (The individual).

He didn’t even care enough to invest the time to send it out himself. I am not sure how it could be even more impersonal and in this case, I would recommend not even sending it.

The holidays should be about sincerity, a little extra effort ….

MONOTASKING

 

I enjoyed Cathy Davidson’s HBR podcast on the dangers of mono-tasking while driving in on Monday. During the opening, she covers tests where airline pilots running simulators in extreme conditions were so focused on the task at hand (landing the plane by paying attention to the instruments) that they ignore big items – such as putting another airliner in the runway (they often hit it), hence the point – dangers of monotasking.

At the 9 minute mark Ms. Davidson suggests that multi-tasking (or switching tasks) is critical, a point I tend to agree with. People who take a break in-between tasks will be much more productive through the day, as they alleviate boredom, change it up or as she says “Take time to give the brain a glass of water”. This switch can be accomplished by a different conversation, reading an article or by doing a different task.

The debate on multi-tasking will continue to rage, but it was a refreshingly different perspective. Also a good reminder that when deep in a task or project, taking a step back will not only refresh but allow you to acquire a bigger picture and avoid ‘that big parked plane’.

HP 12C ANNIVERSARY EDITION

 

A colleague forwarded a press release on HP releasing their 30th Anniversary Edition HP 12C, for a mere $80-$100. You can read about it here.

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Leaving HP’s current problems and troubled future outlook aside, this is quite an event. I have many fond memories of this calculator and consider it one of the tools that propelled me to sales success after university in the early 90’s.

I commented on it in this entry under ‘Reciprocity’ in April and keenly remember how this tool set me apart from other reps. My peers would go in front of the financing manager with no understanding of how the deal was structured; no knowledge of interest rates or financing charges where I went in front of them understanding rates, terms and all of the affiliated deal details so that I could negotiate both internally and externally. A clear lesson to me that I remember today – it is not good enough to be good in just one aspect of your job – you must actively ensure that you are well rounded. For example, being a sales rep who is great at relationships but not good at understanding the technical and value details of the product, negotiation, objection handling, internal resource management, team leadership, cold calling, presentation creation and delivery .. etc. …. isn’t good enough.

Success comes from understanding all of the aspects and either being good at all of them (tough) or having a plan to ensure that you can execute well on all of them with the support of others. Top performance requires a Renaissance Man/Woman approach to business.

I have a HP 12C sitting on my desk as a reminder.

BRAND OVERCOMING IMPERFECTION AT APPLE

 

I have always believed that one of the strengths of Apple is their ability to create a cult like loyalty among their clients. If you believe the old sales saying of “Make one person happy, they will tell 5 people. Make one person unhappy, they will tell 250 people”, then that loyalty is very valuable as they are willing to overlook issues, to the point where they  openly defend these issues. I was in more than one debate on Apple versus Microsoft with Apple fans during my tenure at Microsoft.

It is an impressive measure of their brand strength, product quality and customer service (which is unbelievable).

I say all of this because my move to Apple was filled with high expectations. A transformational experience … as described by almost every Apple fanboy/girl who I spoke to. But it has not been perfect, in fact it has been filled with a number of issues and as a newcomer, with a clear bias (i.e. Working for Microsoft for almost a decade), I find it interesting.

An example:

One of the ‘must haves’ for our iMAC was the ability to use the screen as an XBOX screen so that the boys would not have to head into the basement to play. Sitting upstairs in the kitchen as a group is a family ‘must have’. I spent a ton of time researching this and thought I had it nailed with the Kanex XD. It allows you to take an HDMI feed and have it utilize target display mode on the iMac. Simply put – you can play your XBOX on the screen.

What I did not realize is that the ‘new iMac’ with the Thunderbolt upgrade does not support target display mode as identified in this KB article – Apple engineers didn’t build that capability leaving many Apple users in the cold. The greater issue is that at the time of purchase and through a ton of trouble shooting, no one understood this. Even yesterday, I tried a different product that they sell in the Apple store (Belkin AV360) and everyone in the store thought it would work. It did not.

On a general perception level, I find some of the basic functionality substandard (i.e. iPhoto is just unusable, Time Machine backing up every hour is silly, the mail experience isn’t great and I noticed a security update!), but balance that off with admiration for the industrial engineering and increasing admiration for many of the positive features of the OS (i.e. Watching my boys crank out a very cool iMovie on the first day we got the device). But it is not the perfection I was expecting.

So I conclude with two thoughts and one offer:

  • Every business should aspire to Apple like brand loyalty. As their earning results continue to show, it is a very enviable position to be in.
  • The power of the Apple community is very important. It is dangerous if newcomers set too high of expectations and are not embraced within the group and ‘assimilated’, quelling dissatisfaction.
  • If anyone would like to buy a fully functional brand new Kanex HD that works with a iMac older than March – send me an email because I missed the 30 day return date trying to figure it all out :)

NEGATIVE MARKETING

 

I find negative marketing off-putting. This morning I opened the door and found this flyer stuck in my door. I happen to like the neighbourhood …..

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GOING ELECTRONIC

 

As mentioned in a previous post, I have been uncharacteristically slow to adopt eBooks. Uncharacteristic in that I love to be on the bleeding edge of technology, always on the new OS beta’s, running different devices, trying out a new piece of technology. But for some reason I did not jump on the eBook bandwagon.

This holiday that changed. After reading a friend’s post on reading, I realized that I have a few additional options that I had not considered. Therefore, under the balmy Belizean sun, cold Coke in hand and hammock swaying in the gentle breeze, I embarked on the journey of learning how to read electronically.

As previously mentioned, one of my biggest hurdles for transitioning to an eBook is that when I read business literature, I like to read it like I did in University (or perhaps better than I did in University), making notes, highlighting quotes. I often find myself going back to old business books and re-reading parts, or grabbing quotes to share in presentations. What I found surprised me. Below are my highlights and how I have implemented eReading.

Document choice

The amount of choice is truly dizzying. All of the different document and book formats (PDF, .LIT, ePub …) can be overwhelming. After reading widely, I settled on two formats for all documents:

  • PDF:  Inevitable. Analyst reports, Harvard Business Review articles, reports that I read daily, are all published in PDF.
  • ePUB:  It would seem that ePub is the most universally supported. There are several other proprietary options out there, but I am going to do everything I can to avoid them.

Hardware choice

On the reader front, the decision is really between a dedicated reader and a tablet. I am running on an Android Tablet (Galaxy) as it has a wide range of software choices. I was worried that it would not perform as well in the daylight as a Kindle, but the ability to shift viewing modes makes it almost as effective. As a Kindle aside, it was amazing to see how many people had a Kindle at the pool. At one point, I counted 4 Kindles, my tablet, an iPad, 1 person reading a paper book and a guy with a bright pink 17” laptop resting on his stomach (smile).

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All about the software

Rooting through which software to use is the real chore. In the end I settled on the following:

  • Adobe Reader X:  Reading and highlighting PDFs remains an issue. I cannot find a good PDF reader for Android but there is hope. Adobe just released their ‘X’ version which includes commenting and highlighting for the desktop. A huge step forward. I will be forced to read PDFs on the laptop for a while longer. Hopefully the Android version with highlighting and comments is not far behind. I left a note on their forum!
  • Moon Reader:   Tried a host of readers and liked this one the best. Great annotation, highlight and bookmarking software. The best feature is the ability to export through a range of vehicles, email, Evernote and others. Very flexible choice.
  • Kindle and Kobo:   I have accounts with both, although I like the Kindle Android application better. The only downside is that it isn’t as flexible with sharing highlights and notes as Moon Reader. As an aside, Kobo has 1.8 million books available for free.
  • Calibre:  And last but not least, I installed Calibre on my media server to manage the eBook library that is simply bound to grow.
  • Evernote:  I have always been a big Microsoft OneNote fan. But as my OS and device patterns fragment, I have found the Microsoft only – desktop centric product less and less usable. I have started the migration to Evernote (again thanks to the previously mentioned note) and could not be happier. All of my notes sync’d across each of my devices. The only feature missing is the ability to skip specific notebooks on a desktop instance (i.e. Leave personal notebooks off of my work computer).
  • Dropbox:  Makes it simple to share PDFs and other documents across all platforms – Windows, Apple, Android. You name it, they support it.

Not quite perfect, but almost. Only one piece left, magazines.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK EXPANDS

 

While at a conference I saw several solutions where a person’s LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter feeds were viewable right from the CRM feed. At a social networking workshop it became very clear that managing one’s online presence is incredibly important. I have often wondered how much to put on LinkedIn with regard to the profile, and after much thought I think it is time to make it a bit more robust. GTD has an action item, time to update LinkedIn.

It is also time to take a look at a few sites like Jigsaw and other to see what is in there. Will be very interesting.

PICTURES

 

I had the opportunity to watch Tom Drews, CEO of What Works! speak on The Art of Presenting Online yesterday at the Sales 2.0 conference. His model for building and presenting a story is thought provoking, as is his ‘dance’ (look left). He has a very simple PDF with 28 tips on building a great presentation. One of his points was to use the Steve Jobs approach of using pictures to tell the story, using more slides with less words.

He posted the below picture. It certainly tells a story.

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GRAPHING THE ECONOMIC FOOTPRINT

 

I have recently added Strategy+Business to my regular reading list (I came across it in the Air Canada lounge). My interest in a magazine is directly correlated to the number of articles that I tear out for future reference, and I tore out quite a few.

I have spoken to a few UK and Canadian friends recently on the transitions that our two countries are going through as the manufacturing footprint changes. In the case of Canada, as the dollar continues to rise, the economic incentive to manufacture in Canada becomes less and less, leading to a potential workforce change. In the article Manufacturing’s Economic Footprint they lay the GDP impact of manufacturing along per capita income offering a very insightful view of the globe. The only thing missing is trend lines. It would be fascinating to take a 20 year view and see where the different plot points have/are trending.

 

On a separate note, while it is great as a traveller to have such a fantastic dollar, one has to question the central banks policy on holding interest rates.

eBOOKS

 

I enjoy technology. I enjoy reading about it. I enjoy the frustrating process of participating in a beta. I enjoy watching trends and working out how they will have a benefit in business and/or personal life.

But one piece of technology I have really struggled with is the eBook. I have not jumped on the bandwagon. I was given one as a gift. I have the Amazon Kindle Android app on my Samsung Tablet. But I don’t use them. I have only bought a single eBook. I have been wondering if I am missing out, am I falling behind?

Now, I do read on my tablet. I subscribe to a plethora of blogs via Google Reader, my favourite being HBR. I subscribe to a host of podcasts including the BBC World News, BBC Business News, Wallstreet Journal and others. But I just don’t buy eBooks – and I finally figured out why.

It hit me while on the plane reading the paper version of How The Mighty Fall.  When I read a business book, I read it like I am back in University. I bend pages, I underline, I write in the margin and I even highlight on occasions (if I have a highlighter handy which is almost never). I look at that book as a reference tool, a lesson to be leveraged when I face a future decision or question. I cannot count the number of times I have dug through The First 90 days to refer to a lesson. I realized that an eBook cannot provide that same experience (even if it is searchable).

Which led me to a simple conclusion. For me, business books require paper. Personal interest books can be an eBook. Problem solved.

BACK ON THE GTD WAGON

 

It has been a very busy and exciting week. Our team had the good fortune to have David Allen speak at our kick-off this week as we launched a corporate Getting Things Done program. If you have seen him on the web, you know he is an inspiring speaker – and he didn’t disappoint.

I got ‘back on the wagon’ after the holidays with GTD by doing a mindsweep this week. It is amazing how cathartic a mindsweep is. Doing it, I realized that my categories had started to grow … so I took the time to sweep the categories and get back to the right place and resettled on this list:

  • Business waiting for                      Personal waiting for
  • Business call                                   Personal call
  • Business @computer                    Personal @computer
  • Business @office                            Personal @office            
  • Business strategy                          Personal strategy
  • Business someday                         Personal someday

Some would argue, too many. But I found that mixing work and personal just didn’t work for me. Glad to be back on the wagon (almost – I will finish the rest on the plane).

ALLY BANK

 

I enjoy great marketing. This is a great ad (and made me laugh, I like to apply ‘Daddy Tax’ to Halloween candy)

 

 

And guess who Ally is? I didn’t know but felt compelled to look. GMAC.

 

AN AMAZING BUSINESS

 

I had the opportunity to learn about Aquaculture and the vibrant entrepreneurs at Cooke Aquaculture in New Brunswick yesterday. One of the world’s leading pioneers in the industry, I found the story of how they started inspiring;

The Cooke family’s roots stretch back 200 years in the Charlotte County area around Blacks Harbour. According to Cooke, for a large part of that time, his family was employed by the other corporate juggernaut in the village, Connors Bros. Ltd., the parent company of Clover Leaf Seafoods, LP, the largest seafood brand in North America.

"My father worked for Conners Bros., he was a marine mechanic – but my grandparents also worked for Conners Bros., and my parents worked for Conners Bros., and my great grandparents fished for Conners Bros.," he says.

Because the town was so small – at about 950 people today and even fewer back then – its success was tied to the Connors Bros. company. Although Cooke says the firm was integral to the town’s continued success, he also suggests its sole dominance as the only employer in the area put a blanket on entrepreneurial spirit.

That made him want to succeed with his own company even more, however.

Fresh out of high school in 1983, Cooke ventured into the world of small business and tried to put together a couple of his own start-ups. All of his attempts at success in his early years failed however.

Rather than giving up, Cooke treated his initial failures as learning opportunities.

"I thought I could take the world on. I assume I lost my shirt and probably a few other people’s shirts along with me," he says.

"It’s absolutely crazy that you graduate from high school and go start doing what I was trying to do. But I certainly did learn my most important lessons of how business works back in those days."

In 1985 Cooke put the false starts behind him and joined his brother and father to buy two fish cages and about 5,000 salmon.

The trio brainstormed a name for the new business and settled on Kelly Cove Salmon, named after the area they operated their fish farm in.

Work was steady for the next four years until the fledging company decided to buy its own supply chain and purchased Oak Bay Hatchery, which provided them with salmon eggs and smolt (juvenile fish).

And the rest is now their successful history, winning the honour of one of Canada’s 50 Best Run Companies multiple times and a growth trajectory that is far from over (Privately owned, their revenues a few years ago were over $180M). You can read about their approach to verticalization and ongoing innovation in the industry here.

From humble beginnings, an inspiring story.

A WORD CLOUD

 

In a recent presentation someone used the tool Wordle to highlight the results of a survey. They put all of the survey comments into the tool and it puts together a word cloud with the most common words being the largest. A very cool tool.

From the Centre for Women in Business:

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PERPLEXED ABOUT MARK HURD

 

I have to admit that as I read the story about the Hewlett Packard CEO and his resignation over expense fraud and harassment, I was perplexed. I had often heard from people at HP that he was a really good CEO, having put HP on the right track after the Fiona years of lots of flash, and little delivery. That being said, the detractors are now coming out. Consider the story ‘Actually, Mark Hurd was a Thug’;

This guy was a thug, nicknamed Mark Turd by ex-HPites who worked directly for him — stories that have circulated in the Valley for three years. He raped HP employees (figuratively, without violating the sexual conduct code at HP) by eliminating the sixty-five year concept of profit sharing, preferring to move to obscene bonuses for himself and his five top minions — a mere $113 million payout for them in a year he chopped everyone else’s pay by 5% plus profit-sharing. These were raises for some of the five people by as much as 400% — a tidy uptick.

He was profane, a bully, autocratic, threatening, demeaning, vindictive, and rude. Blogs over the weekend by current employees said "Hooray, the tyrant is gone!" I couldn’t contain my glee on the 11pm news — best news for HP in a very long time!

The Voice of the Workplace, HP’s thirty-five year historic ‘measure’ of employee feelings (done every five years) showed in April an astonishing finding — more than two-thirds of HP’s employees would quit tomorrow if they had an equivalent job offer. Not a raise, not a promotion, simply an alternative. That number never used to be in double digits. Other companies in the Valley have reported an amazing rate of HP resumes being submitted; one large company saying, "we didn’t know they had that many people working there".

A quick web search finds an entire web site dedicated to Mark Hurd loathing. One has to wonder what he was thinking. Did he figure that he was untouchable (the Tiger Woods syndrome)? If you review the facts it remains a head scratch:

  • Earned 33M in 2008.
  • Married with children.
  • Harassment charges filed by an ex-reality TV star.
  • Harassment charges referred to during his resignation with an official explanation of $1-20k in expense fraud.

A blog at HBR suggests that it could be embarrassment (he tells more lies to cover the first), arrogance or a lack of attention to detail. I am sure that over the coming months more will come out.

What an odd story. But then again, no odder than many others such as Eliott Spitzer and countless others. A far cry from the ABB CEO who famously walked onto an airplane during dramatic corporate cutbacks and went straight to coach while his VPs sat, uncomfortably, in Business Class. Leadership by example.

Such an odd story and HP will suffer through this unfortunate crisis of character like so many other companies, and their employees have before.

FOXCONN

 

I had not heard of the company Foxconn until it started to hit the press over the last few weeks, after a host of employee suicides.

More care urged for after FoxConn suicides

Some Foxconn employees get 20% pay rise

Reading the articles is a fascinating journey into China as you learn about this mammoth company that employs 800,000+ employees. The Foxconn walled city within Shenzhen (which is known as outsource city) is unbelievable, housing more than 270,000 employees with all of the city within a city services (fire, ambulance, hospital, shopping, transit).

hon-hai-map.gif

Living in a city built by my employer is definitely a foreign concept and the scale is mindboggling.  Via.

APPLE NOW WORTH MORE THAN MICROSOFT

 

A big day today after Microsoft’s stock continued to drop. It is exactly where it was this time last year (I know – because that is when I eliminated all Microsoft from my holdings).

According to the CBC:

That makes Apple the most valuable technology firm in the world and the second-largest publicly traded U.S. company, behind oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. Exxon has a market value of $278.6 billion.

Impressive.

DELIBERATE PRACTICE

 

A month ago I took the boys to a hockey game. While we were there I met a very interesting fellow, sitting beside me, David Ben. International lawyer who left the practice to successfully pursue his life long goal of being a magician. Thanks to his recommendation, we now have tickets to the Luminato Festival of Arts, and Mac King who is taking time out of his vacation from his Vegas show to perform (and who David endorses as amazing).

David is also into social networking and blogs. I read through a host of his posts, and found the entry on Deliberate Practice and the premise that volume of practice is not the key to success in a chosen vocation interesting.

One of my pet peeves has always been listening to people who pontificate how long they have been involved with something as if the length of time at an activity warranted respect. We’ve all heard someone – who is not particularly good at the task – state, “I’ve been doing this for thirty-five years…”

My mental response is usually, “Well, if I had been doing it for as long as you have, and was still that bad, I’d want to consider an alternative career.” 

The reason they are bad is not because they haven’t put the time in, but because they have not done ‘deliberate practice’. Tugend cites Professor Ericsson’s notion of deliberate practice: “It involves spending hours a day in a highly structured activities to improve performance and overcome weakness.”

Based on the article ‘For the Best of the Best, Determination Outweighs Nature and Nurture’ in the New York Times.

But it does not follow, Professor Ericsson said, that everyone can become great, or even really good, in a given arena. First of all, you need to have parents willing to put in an intensive amount of resources and time in helping you excel.

In fact, research has shown that most people who are really outstanding in their fields don’t come out of nowhere. Top-notch musicians are usually born into families where music plays a dominant role. The same is true with sports or any other endeavour.

In addition, by studying those who have excelled, Professor Ericsson has found that they engage in something he calls “deliberate practice.” It involves spending hours a day in highly structured activities to improve performance and overcome weaknesses.

The theory is well supported by the Outliers and the 10,000 hour rule. As someone who has not played golf much in the last 3 years and is re-engaging, it also explains why simply running to the range and hitting balls has very little impact.

Never stops amazing me, watching people flail away with no coaching. I hope they are enjoying it, because the above surmises that enjoyment will be the only benefit. It also explains why it makes me feel like I am wasting time if I am not focused on a specific skill practice. Two weeks ago was my first game, and after the game (and affiliated warm-up on the driving range and putting green), I headed straight home and started pulling out my golf books to re-read the things that had gone rusty during my 3 year hiatus. Focus …

The above also explains why my music teacher made us practice 30 minutes a day, on the lessons he dictated for the week.

UNDERCOVER BOSS

 

Interesting reading the reviews on the new show Undercover Boss, about CEOs going undercover in their business. It doesn’t get the best reviews:

The show’s premise is that wealthy CEOs are currently out of touch with their companies and don’t understand how their decisions impact their employees’ professional and personal lives. The events on the show are clearly planned to get this point across. For example, bosses are strategically paired with employees who have sympathetic and/or distressing life stories. The show also draws specific attention to some of each company’s more inadequate corporate policies and highlights any hostile and/or sexist environments that are created when some of these policies are enforced.

I watched the first episode on Larry O’Donnell, President of Waste Management going undercover. As the review points out, they ‘happen’ to place the CEOs with people who had distressing situations (One with a missing kidney, a woman doing 3 jobs and about to lose her house, another woman who drives garbage trucks and isn’t allowed bathroom breaks).

In the end, if a few people’s lives were improved (In each case, during the debrief, the President did something for them) why not? The question is, if they went back will Larry have altered a few things personally?

Interesting premise, but not sure it will last (One was enough for me).

THE REBIRTH OF THE EGG

 

I enjoy reading stories of innovation and the article ‘Enriched and Famous’ is a fantastic story on business innovation. How does one change a product like an egg? It would seem impossible. But the daughter of a  Canadian farmer stumbled upon the Omega 3 innovation in Australia, and then applied a unique dose of business ingenuity:

The company that launched the omega‑3 craze in Canada was Burnbrae Farms, an egg producer near Brockville. In the 1970s and 1980s, egg producers had a major public relations problem. Cholesterol was a dirty word, and eggs contain more cholesterol than almost any other food. For the health conscious, tucking into a plate of eggs Benny seemed as foolhardy as giving a toddler a box of matches. Egg consumption in Canada dropped 35 per cent over three decades; egg farmers were struggling to make ends meet. The Hudson family, who operate Burnbrae Farms, were desperate to change the public’s perception of their product.

Margaret Hudson, the youngest daughter of the family’s patriarch, Joe, encountered her first omega-3 egg on a business trip to Australia in 1995. The trouble was, it tasted fishy (the chicken feed had been fortified with fish oil). When she returned home, she spoke to Steve Leeson, a poultry nutrition expert at the University of Guelph, who was studying the possibility of developing an enriched egg in Canada. A colleague of his, nutritional scientist Bruce Holub, had been researching the effects of omega-3-rich flaxseed on the human diet. Holub discovered flax raised levels of omega-3 in the bloodstream, which gave Leeson the idea of feeding it to chickens. Ontario egg producers and the Flax Council of Canada, along with Burnbrae, were only too happy to help fund Guelph’s studies. Later that year, Leeson published a peer-reviewed paper suggesting flax-fed chickens could produce omega‑3-enriched eggs that might reduce the risk of heart disease.

The result:

By the following spring, Burnbrae had launched its Naturegg Omega 3, and a commodity that was barely breaking even quickly became a premium product. In a 2007 report, consulting firm Deloitte referred to the transformation of “an old, ultra-generic [product] into a highly specialized and heart disease–combatting weapon” as “one of the great marketing success stories of recent Canadian business history.”

Not only do consumers pay $1.25 or so more for omega-3 eggs, we buy them more often than any other type of specialty egg. Omega-3 egg sales—12 per cent of the retail market share—are second only to classic white. Loblaws’ PC-brand omega-3 eggs are the store’s best-selling private label product in the store—ahead of even the Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Enjoy the entire article here. A motivating story … when it does not seem like innovation is possible, think again.

THE UPSIDE DOWN NEW YEARS LIST – VIA JIM COLLINS

 

New Years. That day of reflection for many and a time when fitness equipment and gym memberships soar. Jim Collins, of ‘Good to Great’ fame, has a very interesting approach to New Year’s resolutions, he calls it his ‘stop doing’ list:

The start of the New Year is a perfect time to start a stop doing list and to make this the cornerstone of your New Year resolutions, be it for your company, your family or yourself. It also is a perfect time to clarify your three circles, mirroring at a personal level the three questions asked by Smith:

1) What are you deeply passionate about?
2) What are you are genetically encoded for — what activities do you feel just "made to do"?
3) What makes economic sense — what can you make a living at?

Those fortunate enough to find or create a practical intersection of the three circles have the basis for a great work life.

Think of the three circles as a personal guidance mechanism. As you navigate the twists and turns of a chaotic world, it acts like a compass. Am I on target? Do I need to adjust left, up, down, right? If you make an inventory of your activities today, what percentage of your time falls outside the three circles?

If it is more than 50%, then the stop doing list might be your most important tool. The question is: Will you accept good as good enough, or do you have the courage to sell the mills?

You can read the entire article here. It is an interesting point of view. Personally, I do not start the year with a resolution list. I simply reflect on my goals and make adjustments – which is an ongoing process, not marked by any point in the calendar.

That being said, I like the stop doing list idea as part of that non-stop review and reflection process.

2010 is going to be great. Have a Happy New Year.

THE MYSTERY OF POWERPOINT

 

There are lots of posts on PowerPoint. How not to use it. How it is abused. How it is the root of all evil in the business world. That being said, it is amazing to see it integrated into the schools, where the kids are expected (In grade 5 and up) to do PowerPoint for their class projects. It is not going away.

It is a much different world than what I remember as a kid. PowerPoint, access to the internet and colour laser printers at home lead to dramatically different presentations. For me, it was a pair of scissors, the National Geographic and Time magazine pile, the library and our much cherished, very expensive set of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In our house, PowerPoint has morphed from a business tool to a source of entertainment. The boys have always enjoyed doing Lego movies, and now they enjoy doing PowerPoint. It is fascinating to watch. They create a slide, then copy it and alter, copy and alter, slowly creating a stop motion video. I watch and think, I use to do that with a bunch of paper … and then would flip it to watch the items move. How 1930s …

Why do I mention PowerPoint and randomly post? Because of this video, which hit my inbox the other day. Corporate presenters beware …

IF YOU DON’T HAVE SOMETHING NICE TO SAY ….

 

I just read a great article by Harvey Mackay, with a story about Socrates:

One day in ancient Greece an acquaintance met the great philosopher Socrates and said,

"Socrates, do you know what I just heard about your friend?"

"Hold on a minute," Socrates replied. "Before telling me anything I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test."

"Triple Filter?"

"That’s right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and…"

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?"

"No, on the contrary…"

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him, but you’re not certain it’s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one filter left: the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?"

You can read the full article here.

It reminds me of a piece of advice that someone told me or I read in the past, it was quite simple. When someone comes to you and complains about another person or talks about that person, your answer should always be simple and to the point:

‘Wow. What did he (the person being discussed) say when you told him/her?’

In other words, if you have something to say, say it to the person who can benefit the most – the person you are talking about.

A GREAT QUOTE

 

A great thought for anyone getting ‘too big for their britches’:

‘The graveyard is full of indispensible men’

David Peterson, former Premier of Ontario while on the CBC.

SLAVE TO EMAIL

 

Now that business is getting into a rhythm for myself and my team, I have started implementing ‘Getting Things Done’ rigour. This includes working offline, ensuring that the ‘new email notification’ pop-up in Outlook is disabled and not allowing the whims of others to dictate where my time is invested.

For those who have not read it, every business person who works in today’s connected world should  It is transformational (but difficult to keep implemented). That being said, it has helped me massively over the last 5 years.

‘The winds and the waves are always on the sides of the ablest navigators’    Edward Gibbon

‘Rule your mind, or it will rule you’  Horace.

A QUESTIONABLE LAWYER

 

I think that other people’s time is valuable. I think that my time is valuable. Therefore, if I am late to a meeting or for an appointment, I apologize. A month ago I was 15 minutes late for the doctor – I offered to pay the fee and reschedule, after I had called ahead while travelling to let his assistant know that I would be late.

Common professional courtesy. But this is not a common approach.

Last night I arrived with my family for our lawyer appointment 5 minutes early. Prompt. We then waited 25 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, as the receptionist was leaving (it was the end of the day) I asked:

‘Will he be much longer?’

She looked at me funny and said ‘Why, are you in a hurry?’

At that moment, I recognized what this was – a personal growth opportunity. A test of some sort.

I smiled and said ‘Actually, I have had a really long day. In fact, it has been a really long month. We are just back from England and it is a bit crazy. We would really like to get home. That is why I made an appointment’

‘Well, he is usually really punctual. Really punctual. So I am sure he will be with you as soon as possible. His last client was 30 minutes late’. She resumed packing her bag.

‘Excuse me, does that mean he will be 30 minutes late?’

‘I am not sure. I am sure he will go as fast as he can’. She stood up, grabbed her stuff and left for the day.

When we finally did enter his office, he didn’t apologize. Instead, he acted like he had known us for years (first time we met). He then went on to provide long winded explanations to everything that we were signing despite my using very polite prompts such as ‘Thanks, we understand what a deed is’, ‘Thanks, I understand how money is transferred from my bank to you in trust’ or ‘Thanks, this is the 3rd home we have bought, so we don’t need to have that explained’. He just went on and on. To make it worse, throughout the conversation he swore in front of my boys. Not big swear words, but little ones non-stop. Enough so that when we left the boys mentioned it.

To top it all off, for the last signature he looked at me, smiled and said ‘And this is the last signature. Mikey put your signature right here’.

My wife and I walked out of there and started laughing. It was a surreal experience. Of course, I also noticed this book on his shelf …. which made me laugh. Considering what he charged me, that is good margin for 6 minutes of education (LOL). He should have read a 6 minute book on professionalism.

Click to enlarge

READY FOR ANYTHING

 

While on vacation a few weeks ago I read a lot less than I usually do, only 2 books (The Reapers, John Connolly and Ready for Anything, David Allen).and a few of the usual magazines (Harvard Business Review, Harvard Management Update, Selling and Men’s Health).

The David Allen book is a good (not great) light read. A few highlights for me:

  • ‘Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials’   Lin Yutang

It is so hard to leave things undone.

  • ‘All intellectual improvements arise from leisure’ Samuel Johnson.

This struck me as a great insight. That leisure time, just clearing the mind, often leads to the best of innovations (which is why it is always good to have a pen at hand!)

  • ‘The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war’  Asian proverb.

This quote could be the introduction to First 90 Days. Prepare while you can, because when that new opportunity hits, time will disappear.

A few good thoughts.

OUTPERFORMING THE MARKET

 

At a recent conference, I watched a presentation on disruption in the market by Atan Burrows from the agency Tequila. In the presentation he presented 3 ‘rules’ for disruptive thinking:

  1. NEVER ATTEMPT TO PREDICT THE FUTURE – BEHIND EVERY MEDIOCRE STRATEGY THERE IS A FALSE ASSUMPTION
  2. YOU CAN NEVER PLAN FOR THE FUTURE IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE NOT PREPARED FOR
  3. YOU CANNOT OUTPERFORM A MARKETPLACE IF YOU ADHERE TO ITS CONVENTIONS

He showed this video to demonstrate point 3. It demonstrates the point very well.

So in the end, we all must ask ourselves: In this new economy, how are we going to be different to thrive? Interesting times.

RICHARD TEMPLAR RULE NO. 4: HOLD EFFECTIVE MEETINGS – NO REALLY EFFECTIVE

 

A couple weeks ago I churned through an easy read by Richard Templar, The Rules of Work. Written in a conversational style, filled with anecdotes and very simple – conventional business wisdom, although I don’t agree with everything in there (he is a little too calculating). A book I would definitely recommend to graduates and younger staff members, or to a few who have forgotten some of the basics.

I am now whipping through The Rules of Management (sense a theme?). I love Rule No. 4 on meetings:

To be effective you shouldn’t allow anyone to reminisce, ramble, rabbit on, refuse to shut up or relax. Keep ‘em moving fast and get them out of the door as soon as you can.Rules of Management: The Definitive Guide to Managerial Success (The Rules Series)

You don’t do ‘any other business’ – ever. If it’s that important it should be on the agenda. If it isn’t, then it shouldn’t be there at all. ‘Any other business’ is invariably someone trying to get something over on someone else.

Hold all meetings at the end of the day rather than at the beginning. Everyone’s anxious to be off home and it keeps meeting shorter; at the beginning of the day everyone has ages to digress and chat.

… Useful tip – never schedule meetings to begin exactly on the hour, always say 3:10 rather than 3 o’clock.

The end of day idea is brilliant (for large meetings) and the 3:10 feature is one that I wish was in Outlook. How is it possible for me to be on time when I am back to back in the calendar? If Outlook had a feature defaulting to 50 minute meetings it would make a world of difference.

PS: I also read David Allen’s Ready for Anything while on vacation and was quite disappointed. Hundreds of pages of ‘buy into Getting Things Done and you will be more successful’. Got it, believe in GTD, use GTD, didn’t need to read 52 reasons of why I should continue to use it.

TURNING YOUR IDEA INTO A PRODUCT

 

In days not long past, building a product required a lot of capital. The story of James Dyson and his quest to make the best vacuum cleaner at great cost, personal risk and debt being one of many.

Wired had an interesting article in their January edition that goes through sites that allow you to leverage their facilities and designers to mock-up a product:

Whipping up production-ready furniture and laser-cut tchotchkes has always been a cinch on custom-fab site Ponoko.com—for those who know their way around apps like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW. But what if you’re like us — heavy on the ideas, light on the CAD skills? Our DIY dreams die on the napkins we draw them on. Luckily Ponoko recently launched a service just for us. It lets creative types submit concepts to be mocked up by actual designers (if your brain wave is deemed worthy). You can then sell your built-to-order product on the site, CafePress-style. We decided to give it a try, requesting a few items we wish were on the market.

Sites like Ponoko and CafePress-style allow you to quickly mock up a working product at a low cost. One of the 4Ps just got a lot more accessible.

KARL MARX ON CREDIT

 

This quote was just forwarded to me and it warrants posting:

"Owners of capital will stimulate working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalized, and State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism."

Karl Marx, 1867

THIS IS NOT A RECESSION

 

Via Tom Peters:

Don’t think of our current economic crisis as a recession. Instead, think of it as a recalibration.

Everything is different now.

If you think of it as a recession, you may be tempted to "hunker down" and wait for the economy to cycle back.

If you think of it as a recalibration, you will be motivated to focus on what you have to do differently, since everything is different now.

The way your business generates results is different, now.

Your customers think differently, now.

Your customers care about different things, now.

Your customers act differently, now.

Your customers may actually be different people, now.

Customers aren’t disposable anymore; more than ever, you have to create sustainable customer relationships.

Everything is different now.

So true…

CONSTANT CHANGE & OBAMA

 

We live in a new world. As the article ‘The New Reality: Constant Disruption’ points out:

The world is moving so fast that even the short term seems long. Writing his Financial Times column The Long View on a recent Friday morning, John Authors observed that, "as far as many traders across the world are concerned, a ‘long view’… is anything that goes much past Sunday evening."

These are interesting financial and political times. But one thing is for sure, the new US leader is working to act decisively, already ordering the dismantling of CIA prisons and Gitmo. A Harvard article provides insight into Obama in the article ‘How to Communicate like Barak Obama’;

  • Challenge: Yes we can was his campaign slogan.
  • Question: Hear all sides of the issue.
  • Be real: Most evidenced by his letter to his daughters.
  • Decide: Be decisive.
  • Inspire: Absolutely.

Press on.

PERSPECTIVE

 

There are a lot things going on in the world right now. Obama’s inauguration (a great speech), the crazy financial situation around the world and people experiencing highs and lows. I found this article from John Maxwell’s leadership newsletter particularly interesting. It puts into perspective that old adage that ‘money does not buy happiness’, something many people will need to remember over the coming period.

Distraught over massive financial losses incurred during the past year, Adolf Merckle scrawled a suicide note to his family and wandered out the door into a dark, wintry night. He made his way for the railway where he stood by the tracks and waited in the cold. Spotting the headlight of an oncoming railcar, he threw himself under the train and took leave of this world.

As tragic as the suicide was, it would not have received worldwide press apart from one shocking fact: Adolf Merckle was valued at 9.2 billion dollars, ranking 94th on Forbes 2008 list of the world’s richest persons.

It can be hard to fathom the extent of Mr. Merckle’s wealth, a billion dollars being such a staggering sum. Think of it this way, 9,000 people could each win a million dollars in the lottery, pool their money together, and still have less money than Mr. Merckle was worth. Or, the entire nation of Haiti (8.5 million people) could work for two and a half years without accumulating income equal to Mr. Merckle’s portfolio.

The author provides two pieces of advice; remember to thank people for their great work (because it can just get so busy that we forget) and avoid selective hearing – continue to appraise the situation and adjust. He closes with one last line:

Like a mountaineer, you may be enduring a rocky, uphill stretch. If so, keep fighting to gain perspective. Hard work and persistence seldom go unrewarded, and they often carry you to a glorious destination.

So true, PRESS ON.

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE: WHAT IF THE WORLD WAS WIPED OUT BY AN ASTEROID?

 

Funny how one thing leads to another. This blog entry and video lead me to the Discovery Channel video of an Asteroid hitting the earth:

A hundred years ago a large meteor exploded ten kilometres above the Earth’s surface in Tunguska, obliterating 830 square miles of woods. It was the largest impact in recent history, but nothing compared to this.

The meteor—or comet fragment—was only a few tens of meters in diameter, according to modern estimates based on its 15 megatons energy blast. This 3D simulation, however, shows what something like Apophis will do if it hit Earth. I saw a while ago on the web, but now it is available in glorious HD, so you can see all the gritty-nitty detail of good old planet Earth getting completely obliterated.

A small meteor hitting and obliterating 830 square miles is alarming. Edmonton just had a meteor hit in full view. I wonder how big it was?

Of course, if you are a Darwin fan (sorry, I am a Creation guy), then you will think this is par for the course. After all, Darwin fans think things will continue to evolve (Super cool video, but can anyone know what these people are selling?)

MY 2009 EUROPEAN ECONOMIC STIMULUS PROPOSAL

 

As I walked around Paris and reflected on the ‘consumer’ experience in the UK, I came upon an economic stimulus idea for the European Union. I like to call it ‘The 21st Century European Retailing Stimulus Package’.

In what many would consider a radical move for Europe, my program calls for:

  • Shops opening in the evening during the week. That means no more closing the shops down at 5 pm. (or 4 pm. depending on your location). That means that on a Friday night, you would actually be able to go to the book store or buy a coffee in the evening. I remember this summer walking in Edinburgh on a Thursday night at 7:30p.m. with the streets packed and not a single store open (not even a pharmacy – which is what I needed).
  • Shops open on the weekends (many don’t).

This will lead to:

  • More jobs (more retail hours = more jobs).
  • Increased customer satisfaction (With the radical idea of retail hours being tailored to the customer’s availability). Although, this depends on whether or not the 16 year old sitting on their butt behind the till at the Waitrose watching me pack my own groceries is also taught to get off his/her butt and help me.
  • My ability to enter a retailer during the week and avoid the weekend rush.

Now, I know that many will be offended by this idea. What about the worker? Why do we need to be more materialistic? We don’t want to be like North America? Hold on a minute, they will say, you must remember that bad customer service is part of the European culture -

Or as a Brit said to me at a New Years eve party ‘I quite like the shops in Windsor’ (Note: I agree – it is just that they are open for such a short period every day!).

I built a diagram to describe it for Parliament ….

                 Let the debate begin.

HAPPINESS & CHRISTMAS

 

A word of wisdom which seems particularly appropriate considering the current economic climate AND the fact that the holidays are upon us, from one of my favourite business authors, Richard Abraham:

According to James Fowler, Ph.D. and Nicholas Christakis, MD, Ph.D., not only is happiness absolutely contagious, it spreads beyond direct contact between two people to "infect" each person’s social network to several degrees beyond first contact.  Put another way:

  • "The happiness of an immediate social contact increased an individual’s chances of becoming happy by 15%."
  • "The happiness of a second-degree contact, such as the (immediate contact’s) spouse or friend, increased that person’s likelihood of becoming happy by 10%."
  • "The happiness of a third-degree contact . . . or the friend of a friend of a friend, increased the likelihood of becoming happy by 6%."

In the article ‘Peace’ by Justin Pinkerman (As highlighted in John Maxwell’s Leadership Wired eLetter), he makes a similar point under the greater lesson of what we can do as leaders to help people through this tough time:

Let in ……

The loved ones in your life. Laugh together, cry together, share stories from the year. Take joy in being with the friends and family who care about you most. Now is not the time to barricade yourself in the office to plan for 2009. Pause, reflect, and be reminded of what matters most on this earth – relationships.

So true. Optimism, happiness, a positive outlook, remembering what is important, family and a ‘CAN DO’ attitude (both personally and professionally), they all have an impact on those around you both at work and at home. A great piece of advice to carry us into the holidays.

Merry Christmas (or as the Brits say ‘Happy Christmas!’).

BALANCING

 

Was reading a leadership newsletter from Paul Sloane and he pointed to an amazing ‘balancing act’ with a management metaphor buried in there somewhere.

 

WHAT IS $25B BETWEEN FRIENDS?

 

The stock market was buoyed today by news that the US government appears to be set for another mammoth bailout. What the heck? The deficit is already running near a trillion, what is another $15B or $25B between friends?

We have all heard about the fiasco of AIG getting $80B and still blowing $500K on a weekend event. But that is topped by the story of the big 3 automaker CEOs flying into Washington to ask for $25B on their corporate jets.

"There is a delicious irony in seeing private luxury jets flying into Washington, D.C., and people coming off of them with tin cups in their hand, saying that they’re going to be trimming down and streamlining their businesses," Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-New York, told the chief executive officers of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors at a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee.

"It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high hat and tuxedo. It kind of makes you a little bit suspicious."

He added, "couldn’t you all have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here? It would have at least sent a message that you do get it."

You can watch it here. How much does it cost?

Wagoner’s private jet trip to Washington cost his ailing company an estimated $20,000 roundtrip. In comparison, seats on Northwest Airlines flight 2364 from Detroit to Washington were going online for $288 coach and $837 first class.

Ford CEO Mulally’s corporate jet is a perk included for both he and his wife as part of his employment contract along with a $28 million salary last year. Mulally’s family lives in Seattle, not Detroit. The company jet takes him there and back on weekends.

Only 1 CEO (Chrysler) has put forward that he would take a $1 salary to stay on. The good thing? These guys have learned their lesson! After being beaten, GM has agreed to sell ‘most’ of their corporate jets and then decided to join Ford and sell them all.

What is even more interesting to me is the fact that there seemed to be less pushback on the $800B financial services buyout than on the $25B automaker buyout. Congress is really making a stink about the auto buyout. Maybe they are all invested in Citi?

I wonder if China is planning on bailing out any of the 67,000 factories that have closed across China over the year? The workers of one factory were asking for 2 months back wages … about $440 each.

A GREAT OPPORTUNITY

 

Last night I heard an interesting perspective on what we face in business over the coming months, a great opportunity to learn. The business leader said that we will learn hard lessons but at the end of it we will know our business better than we did, we will implement changes that we might not have done and we will come out stronger.

A good perspective. There is a lot of opportunity to learn ahead.

ADVERTISING IN A DOWNTURN

 

It is interesting to live through the downturn and watch the different business reactions. This weekend I had a conversation with a CEO of a billion dollar company and he had just banned all ‘non-customer facing’ travel (a common step). The cascading impact or ‘snowball’ effect of companies tightening their belts is not hard to fathom:

  • Company puts in tight travel controls reducing airline, hotel, car rental and restaurant expenditures
  • These businesses buy less consumable product to support their business (oil, paper, sundries, etc.)
  • Commodity or primary industries see their businesses reduce revenue resulting in their tightening belts

A big circle of cascading impact. In the US, a high profile example is Circuit City and their recent announcement to close 155 stores due to poor consumer demand. A oft quoted McGraw-Hill article about recessions and marketing spend make the case for not cutting in key areas – one being advertising:

In a study of U.S. recessions, McGraw-Hill Research analyzed 600 companies from 1980-1985. The results showed that business-to-business Firms that Maintained or Increased their Advertising Expenditures during the 1981-1982 recession Averaged Significantly Higher Sales growth, both during the recession and for the following three years, than those that eliminated or decreased advertising. By 1985, sales of companies that were Aggressive Recession Advertisers had Risen 256% over those that didn’t keep up their advertising.

It would appear that for companies with deep pockets, the downturn represents opportunity. They just need to seize the opportunity ….

On the broader topic of leading through a downturn, a Marcus Buckingham quote was sent to me this week which summarizes it well, "What sets real leaders apart is their ability to turn people’s legitimate anxiety about the future into confidence. They do that by showing people vividly what the future is going to look like.” 

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