Archive for the ‘insights’ Category

the ultimate measure of financial success

How many times have you heard someone suggest that all their financial problems would magically disappear if they only made more money? But high incomes can’t guarantee financial freedom; there are countless examples of people who earned millions yet still ended up bankrupt. The common thread among folks who get into financial trouble — no matter how much money they make — is their inability to consistently spend less than they earn.

The bottom line: The ultimate measure of financial success is not the size of your paycheck. Rather, it’s the money left in your pocket after paying for all your obligations.


source: Len Penzo

conference connectivity

My friend Trent posted last week, “[m]eeting organizer Protip: select a location that gets cell phone service.”.

I am fairly certain I disagree. I disagree with Joel Spolsky on this, too.

If you are organizing a meeting, conference, or the like, there should ONLY be connectivity if you want your attenders to ignore the meeting – whether they ignore it by live-tweeting, or by playing Angry Birds, having access to the internet (or your cell phone) during meetings is bound to end poorly.

If you’re 100% OK with attendees missing >90% of what is said/shared/taught, then go ahead and ensure connectivity. If the purpose of the event is primarily a networking and socialization one, and the presentation content is only to help enable those other two activities, then by all means ensure your attendees can get online.

But if your intent is for attendees to remember what they hear and use it later, you’re far better off ensuring they cannot get online easily (if at all).

why nations fail by daron acemoglu and james a robinson

I first came across Why Nations Fail at my local Half Price Books. After seeing it on the shelves a couple times, but still being unsure about whether I really wanted to read it or not, I reserved it at my local library.

Now I wish I had bought it (and likely will) – Daron Acemoglu & James A Robinson, while sometimes slipping into an academic, journalistic tone, present a fantastic historical, economic, cultural, and international view into the similarities, and differences, of “national” failures around the world over the last several centuries.

They spend a great deal of time expounding on the differences of countries that succeed and those that don’t – and offer insights into how failing nations could, potentially, turn themselves around.

Interestingly, the factors that play-into national success and failure are similar throughout history – critical junctures, inclusive/pluralistic political and economic environments vs extractive/exclusive political and economic structures, empowered citizenries, overbearing rulers, literacy, economic incentives (positive and negative), etc.

The Iron Law of Oligarchy:

the overthrow of a regime presiding over extractive institutions heralds the arrival of a new set of masters to exploit the same set of pernicious extractive institutions (p366)

My recommendation? Buy it. Read it. Share it. The background and conclusions this book presents and reaches should be required reading for anyone who wants to see their nation “do better” – politicians, businessmen, citizens, NGOs: all would benefit from applying what is demonstrated in this excellent work.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Quality of content: 4.5/5
  • Historicity: 5/5
  • Educational value 4.5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

the “best” industries for starting a business?

I generally really like Inc magazine.

But this article is kinda ridiculous: “The Eight Best Industries for Starting a Business.”

By the time an industry has landed on a list like this, the odds that you’re really going to be able to capitalize on it are super slim. There’s nothing “wrong” with starting a business in any of those industries – but you shouldn’t pick an industry because it’s “hot”; you should start your business in the industry you know and are ready to compete in.

If you’re already running a business, perhaps expanding your market reach into some of these “hot” industries is a good idea – and perhaps not. Make sure you are solving problems and delivering solutions.

The rest is gravy.

Sidebar – if you’re relying on mass-market publications like Inc to do your business research, you’re doing it wrong.

magazines

I am the [proud] holder of subscriptions to several magazines.

As part of my attempt to vary my reading materials, I get Wired, Inc, Fast Company, Western Horseman, and several others.

However – I’ve discovered that I just don’t care about most of what is any given issue; there are times when more than half of the magazine is of interest, but usually it’s substantially closer to 10% (excluding ads – include them, and you’re probably down to 5-6%).

It’d be awesome if there was a way of getting a print analogue to an RSS aggregator – in fact, if you know of any, please let me know!

But since there’s not, I’ve adopted a fairly-stringent policy of recycling magazines that show up in my mailbox if I don’t get to them within 2 weeks: and if somehow I miss that deadline, they definitely get scrapped when the new issue arrives.

The only time I will read an out-of-date magazine is when I’m waiting in a doctor’s or dentist’s office, or at the oil change place. There’s just no reason to read “news” and “insights” that old when you can still get them digitally from the magazine websites within days of the print copy arriving in your mailbox.

group admin in the era of facebook

Along the difficulties of initially building a good group/community, comes the hassles of managing said [virtual] community – especially on the book of the face.

I am a coadmin on the Ontario & Western Railways Historical Society Inc Facebook group. My friend Peter is a coadmin of the Linux Mint group.

Something both of us have noticed is the ridiculous spam problem Facebook groups have developed over the past 1-2 years. It’s not a new problem, of course – Stack Overflow has had problems since very early on, too: they printed A Theory of Moderation to outline the issues they were seeing, and how they planned to handle it.

The real problem at the root of all the spam lies, though, not in technology, but in people.

Even with active community self-regulation, moderators occasionally need to intervene. Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt – if you don’t have human exception handling in place.

Spam doesn’t arise on its own – it’s all developed by people. Until the people problem of spam can be addressed, it will continue. Sadly, technology, in and of itself, cannot deal with the people problem.

So instead we have human admins and moderators whose [typically volunteer] job is to ensure that the communit[y|ies] keeps to a general standard, as defined by the community itself. By assuming technology could be made that would fix the problem, we’re asking the wrong question: human behavior needs to be addressed and improved; while technology is wonderful and can aid in the process, it is no panacea.

Encouragements for moderation teams can come in the form of gamification (the SO model), community accolade, or just the individual admin’s personal satisfaction.

The drawback is that this task can become so overwhelming at times and in places that it those tasked with caring for the community, when the community itself won’t do anything about the problem(s), give up because they adopt the view that it’s everyone’s problem, and presume that since it is everyone’s problem, it’s not “theirs”.

What are the solutions to these issues? I can think of a few – but many remain yet unanswered:

  1. the community must encourage the admins
    • if the community isn’t doing something to make their admins feel appreciated, the admins will, eventually, leave
  2. better tech
    • it’s not possible to solve all problems with technology, but there are certainly many areas that can be improved in this regard
  3. community engagement and education
    • seasoned community members and admins alike need to take the time to “mentor” new community members to make sure they stick to the guidelines of that community
    • community members need to be proactive in assisting the moderators when inappropriate items are posted, or conversation degrades below the stands of the group
  4. a willingness to say “no”
    • admins and the general community needs to be willing to tell some people they are not welcome
    • this should [almost] never be in a hateful, grudge-bearing manner, but it must be done to ensure the integrity of the community in the long-term
  5. a willingness to morph
    • the flip side of (4) is that the community needs to be willing on a regular basis:
      • review its own guidelines
      • change / modify rules
      • find new admins
      • welcome new members who aren’t yet versed in the ways of the group ( related to (3) above)

I am sure there are many many more items that can be added to this list. But this is the starting point for every successfully-maintained community I’ve ever seen.

What others would you add, or what would you change?

never run out of dry erase markers

They always go dead when you need them most – so stock up.

Especially at employee personal whiteboard, meeting rooms, and class rooms.

on tipping

Let me preface by saying that tipping, as such, in the US and Canada is messed up. There is no reason for businesses to not pay their staff to do their jobs. I shouldn’t be “expected” to supplement their employer’s miserly pay by tipping.

But, since that’s how it currently works, I want to share my philosophy of tipping when going out to eat. It’s pretty simple, really.

  • for food: start at 20% of the base bill (not including taxes); minimum $1.50/person
    • if you can’t afford to spend an extra $1.50 a person, stay home
  • for drinks: $0.50 per beer or shot, $1 per mixed drink; minimum $1
    • the simpler rule is $1 for every two simple drinks
  • for mixed bills: getting close to 20% covers both previous criteria
    • eg a base bill of $26.69 would be a $5 tip (20% is actually $5.32 – but when using cash, either leave a $5, or leave $5 plus the change)
    • remember: the waiter likely has to share their tips with the bar tender
  • add above and beyond for good-to-exceptional service

what should a professional services group’s goal(s) be?

Should it be as a revenue stream? Or can it be far, far more?

Every place I have worked since getting into professional services back in early 2008 has viewed the goal of the organization as making money by performing services. Whether or not the customer was happy, something useful was delivered, whether a relationship was engendered and cultivated, and whether there were any future opportunities to do work with the given customer were at best secondary, and often viewed as completely unimportant.

I recently spoke with a company about their nascent proserve wing, and heard a view I’ve had niggling at the edges of my thoughts about how the previously-described environments fail, but couldn’t quite word myself. They view their work as enabling the customer. Proserve engineers spend as much time on this team delivering educational resources and engaging disparate teams from customers as they do actually “working”.

This company, which shall remain nameless for now, doesn’t worry about billable hours for their consultants – they worry about making sure that their customers are benefiting from the product they have purchased. Services aren’t free, but they don’t exist to “make money” – they exist to support, extend, and empower customers to use the product better in their environment. Positive side effects of this approach include bringing new techniques and applications back to the team from various places, and a low-pressure feel (though in a highly-involved and solidly-booked team) to every engagement, as much as possible.

Because the company’s goal is to assist their customers, product engineering, support, proserve, and sales are all working together as a team to get stuff done. Everyone is contributing because it’s vital to get customers happy. They’re already using some of the concepts I outlined in my advice on creating a successful support organization, but are taking them further by applying those ideas and approaches across internal structural divides to make the whole company as effective as it can be.

The organizational mindset that believes everyone is onboard to make customer experiences as good as they can be is one that needs to be adopted by every company across every team.

unsales

I am a huge believer in unsales. And not in the pharmaceutical industry sense.

Because “shipping is a feature“, and because I intensely dislike the “do it for me, then hand me the keys” mentality, I routinely follow the unsales methodology.

What is unsales? It is [almost] only selling what a customer can use today. I want to give a customer something they can both use and play with. I want to give them something at the end of any engagement that does actually accomplish something. But I don’t want to do everything for them – I want them to learn, explore, and discover their own use cases. As they discover what can be done with the tools they’ve purchased, they can start to engage in the paradigmatic shift from “automating” to “automation“. And as they explore, discover, and build, they’ll start to see where further services, training, or products can be brought in to do more.

Some people believe in the “moneyball” approach – sell everything (especially the big-ticket, high-margin products), and then let the customer more-or-less fend for themselves after some extended period of services work.

This is good for the vendor doing the selling … but only this quarter. If you sell “everything”, you have no basis to come back to the customer. You’ve developed no relationship. You’ve only “made a sale”. You’ve followed the Walmart model – sell what you can, when you can.

The better model, in my opinion, is the relational model wherein you spend time getting to know the customer’s employees: the engineers, managers, officers, etc. Get to know them personally, and become someone they can turn to as a “trusted advisor” regarding their pain points.

Relational selling (and working, for that matter) tend to lead towards long-term partnerships, engagements, repeat business, etc.

You can take the short-term view, or you can take the long-term view. One yields consistent returns, one may only ever give a single return.

Be relational.