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Monday, March 31, 2014

Gold Star

I was working with a Venture Capitalist who observed, “I hate when I get three quarters of the way through a project plan and see a gold star with a footnote that says, “Breakthrough required here.”


Me too.

Here’s another secret for Cutting Development Time

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Second Half Of The Chessboard

The story goes that the inventor of chess showed it to the emperor, who was mightily impressed, and asked the inventor to name a suitable reward. The seemingly modest response was one grain of rice on the first square, then doubling the rice on each subsequent square. When it turned out that many grains of rice had never been grown, the emperor had the inventor killed.

Old story.

Ray Kurzweil (p. 46) observes that while numbers do get large on the first half of the chessboard, we come across these in the real world. It’s the second half of the chessboard where they get crazy unbelievably big.

The 2nd Machine Age says we are entering the second half of the chessboard right now.

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is the inability to understand the exponential function. Albert A. Bartlett (p. 39)

Think of a line that hugs the bottom of a graph going right, until suddenly it shoots straight up the right side. If you change the up/down axis from an arithmetic progression to a logarithmic progression, the graph becomes a straight 45 degree angle. It’s the growth graph of most successful startups, healthy adoption of technology, and many other graphs I see every week.

So what?

As we enter the second half of the chessboard, we should understand that some “rules” change.

The book shows how Moore’s Law (that the power of computing per dollar doubles every 18 months) has been true for 50 years, but it’s not a law. It the result of thousands of scientists and engineers knocking over every barrier and finding new solutions that has kept Moore’s Law on track. Yet people see it as a law, like gravity, because that is the simpler way to think of it.

If we have billions of sensors available, and billions of thinkers available, successful projects are going to make effective use of both. The book says there are over 7 billion people with over 6 billion mobile phones. In Darwin’s Cathedral, David Sloan Coffin, one of the first evolutionists, thinks that the organism is not the individual human, but humankind. Forget the behavior of individuals, keep your eye on the species.

Which means that this internet thingie is a reordering of our species communication. I guess I knew that, but didn’t realize what it meant.

Leadership Breakfast of Maryland logo

For one of Jack’s projects, the Leadership Breakfast of Maryland, he wanted a great logo at a good price. He found a site which helped him define his situation, specify what he wanted and then turn it over to a community of hundreds of designers. He selected his top contender, who did some tweaking and was done. The process was fast, inexpensive, and high quality. Jack never met any of the people involved.

The 2nd Machine Age gets quite specific about the jobs that are currently machine replaceable and therefore have little value, those that will soon be machine replaceable and therefore have slightly better value, and those that will not be machine replaceable and therefore have a solid value going forward. Looking at their examples, I see they are true, and for me there is value in now seeing underlying reasons why.

We are puzzling out a new social model. Some say we should turn it over to the allegedly more capable.
“What more capable, Daddy?” “Us more capable!”

It’s like that song where the lady was driving on black ice, freaked out and hollered, “Jesus take the wheel!”

I notice the elect usually know less than the populace, so other solutions will probably be more rewarding.

A better solution is to construct models that let us better understand and work with our reality. The second half of the chessboard is new, but understandable, and has so far been very, very rewarding.

Take a wander through The 2nd Machine Age.

Or, consider The Molehill Business.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What is Trust?

Picture this: Lucy has convinced Charlie Brown to run up to kick the football while she is holding it. Charlie races toward the ball and just before he kicks it, Lucy pulls it away – again.

Of course, Charlie kicks nothing but air and winds up on his back with a thud; humiliated and disappointed – again.

Lucy has convinced Charlie yet again to trust her - that this time she will not pull the ball away and Charlie will not kick the air – but she really has a different agenda in mind. Charlie knows in his head that Lucy has pulled the ball away many times in the past, but wants to trust her, so he agrees. You know how it ends...thud.

Trust. Is it absolute or are there different levels? Can it fluctuate up or down the levels?

Consider trust in these circumstances:
  • A baby trusting her parents,
  • A person who is blind trusting their ‘seeing eye dog’,
  • A military squad trusting each other with their lives,
  • A group doing Outward Bound trusting other members to keep them safe during the trust fall,
  • A business colleague sharing confidential information with you, trusting that you will not reveal what he has said,
  • A sales person trying to close the sale asking you to trust him,
  • A casual conversation with someone who prefaces a revelation with “trust me”.

These items are about one person ‘trusting’ another, however, going down the list the strength of that trust drops from absolute to nonexistent. The baby’s trust is unconditional and the blind person’s trust in the seeing eye dog is earned unconditional – while sales person's request is met with skepticism and the casual 'trust me' is merely rhetorical.

The Lucy and Charlie example shows the two aspects of trust - emotional and logical. Lucy has shown many times she has her own agenda and Charlie knows that from experience but really wants to trust her this time so he can accomplish his goal - logic and emotion.

In organizations, trust is reflected in its evolved culture – from accumulated experience.

Think about an organization:
  • does management ‘trust’ the employees?
  • do the employees ‘trust’ management?
  • do either ‘trust’ the customers?
  • does the customer ‘trust’ the organization and its people?

With this in mind, consider:

Ritz-Carlton hotel gives their employees the ability to commit several thousand dollars without prior approval to satisfy an unhappy guest’s problem; a similar policy of customer satisfaction is practiced at Neiman-Marcus. Or what about Zappo's full refund for a year from purchase, including cost of shipping.

How do their employees and customers regard these businesses?

Kmart (and other retailers) say they want complete customer satisfaction, but have a hardy (and inflexible) list of conditions on that complete satisfaction. How do their customers regard these stores and, as a result, how do the employees feel about the customers?

I have found that leaders influence trust – from doing what they say and saying what they will do - ‘walking the talk’ – to the way they choose to have the organization conduct business. Like smiling at a baby gets a smile in return, demonstrating trust in others elevates their trust in you and the organization. Keeping in mind trust has both an emotional and logical aspect – the effective leader must address how the customers and employees feel and react, as well as how each benefits.

Some additional thoughts about trust:

I believe fundamental honesty is the keystone of business. ~Harvey S. Firestone

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. ~Ernest Hemingway

Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Trust, but verify. ~Ronald Reagan (from an old Russian proverb)

As I see it, trust is in the framework of all successful organizations and it does not get there by happenstance. Successful leaders work hard to instill it in all aspects of the entity and in every individual, not as a tool or a technique, but as a fundamental belief.

How To’s in under a minute – Sales Lab Videos

Sunday, March 23, 2014


The Google Plus Fountain Pen community hosted a post on Frankenpens Friday, about putting the best parts of fountain pens together to make a super pen. I mentioned that I had shaped a worn nib into a cursive italic, which created several requests for more detail. This post is from three comments.

At New Year’s, I became dissatisfied with my over ten year old red Pelikan Future fountain pen. It was blobbing, just worn out.

Not an expensive pen, but one of five different color Futures of my EDC. There’s a principal involved.

I read a post on Brad Dowdy’s blog, The Pen Addict,  Grinding Your Own Nibs - Ludwig Tan, and bought the stone and sandpaper on ebay.

Then I started watching sbrebrown on YouTube, and collecting nib maintenance posts:

How to turn a fountain pen nib to italic or stub,

Fountain Pen Guide Series, Session 1: Nibs, Feeds, and How They Come Together, and

Richard Binder’s 3 part series on Nibs.

The wet/dry sandpaper and foam nail file more useful than the stone (too fine), and I've come to work tentatively, coming back a day later rather than going too fast.

First I smooth off the bottom of the nib ball, to make it somewhat flat. I want to leave some iridium on the bottom.

Then I hold the pen straight up, top of nib facing right. I set the top of the pen toward me to get the cursive slant and draw the nib over the abrasive surface, left to right, checking by dipping the nib in ink and trying it, every five to ten strokes.

When I get a good difference between wide down and narrow across, I polish with a few strokes on the manicure foam board. This is all shown on the web pages above.

A cursive differs from a stub in that my pen is held at an angle to the lines on the paper. A cursive is ground slanted 20 degrees so the right edge is shorter than the left. When it is naturally held above the paper, the front of the nib lines up with the horizontal lines.

I don’t use the figure ‘8’s to check the italic, I use a small vertical line next to a small horizontal line. I’m done when it looks like a 3 to 1 difference.

This is for taking notes, about the size of 14 point type, so a really wide nib isn’t as good as a narrower one. I like something about as wide as the Lamy Safari 1.1 stub nib or the Nemosyne Singularity .6mm calligraphy nib.

That foam board nail file is my preferred tool for final smoothing of each nib.

The red Pelikan took the longest because I was so tentative. After a dozen sessions, occasionally despairing it would ever come back, as of yesterday it is lovely, and back in rotation. During the same 10 weeks, I cursived the blue Pelikan future, a custom wood pen with a #6 nib, a new Kaigelu 382 and a new Jinhao 500.

I learned  that I like cursive italic nibs for line variation more than flex or broad nibs. I write fast, with light pressure, and enjoy an interesting swath of ink.

When I started, I was quite concerned about destroying a nib. That blotto red pelikan forced me to try. After all, I’m not cheap, I’m frugal!

So far I haven’t destroyed a nib, yet. I figure by now I’m well ahead.

For other how-to maker stuff, try Square, Triangle, Circle.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Selling Out

During a period of more than 10 years, as a CEO, Director, and Board Chairman, I have been responsible for disposing of three organizations and have been an acquisition target of two other organizations. I have also been a close observer of several other business sale transactions.

Here's what I learned.

Start Early. From concept to handing over the keys takes about 2 years. Seller or buyer, it takes time to find and qualify good prospects, and it's a process of due diligence, negotiation, and hand-holding until the deal is completed.

Carefully Select Your Help. There is a lot of work to do – some requires the knowledge of your people, other requires outside skill and expertise. Choose professionals wisely – keep away from a fee structure that rewards time spent rather than results achieved. Each deal varies in how long it takes to complete (or IF it completes) so, a term certain contract is not a good choice, especially if requiring a periodic payment even if no work is done.

It's Like Having Two Jobs. Due diligence and sale contract negotiation requires time and concentrated effort – but the organization must continue to operate above normal level during the process. You and your people will be working hard, long hours doing both and neither the sale or operations can be shortchanged – either can put the sale in jeopardy.

It's More Than Just a New Coat of Paint. Preparation for a sale goes beyond just prettying up the organization. Like a comfortable old house, where you know to avoid the third porch step, you will find 'invisible' practices within your organization that must be identified and changed – like a handshake contract continuation – deals have soured over the 'invisibles', don't ignore them.

Dot the i's And Cross the t's. While pulling out all the documents and other materials for the document requests – take the time to logically organize them for the buyer, and review everything for being current and complete. Other useful documents: a current chart of responsibilities (a/k/a institutional knowledge) of the staff, current process and procedures for operations, and other similar references that will help the new owners.

Courting the Other Party. If you are selling, increase visibility about your organization immediately after deciding to investigate a sale; if buying, look for prospects early and keep looking. This will give you prospects, but it also is an indicator of the degree of difficulty in making your best deal.

It's Not Over Until It’s Over. Deals can evaporate at any time, often based on a gut feel, rather than a discovered defect. It is critical that the communication between buyer and seller is active and that the effort does not let up when almost completed.

The organization must not be actively in the market at this stage of the deal, but continuing to be visible is important to spinning things up again if the deal falls through. Does that happen? Yes, too often – on one transaction, Dick had five buyers, each deep in the sale who canceled for various reasons – he was finally successful with buyer number six.

I have seen deals canceled because of major defects in the buyer or the seller, but I have also seen deals sputter and go dark when everything seemed as perfect as possible. The statistics on non-deals show there are fewer completed deals made than deals begun. In my experience attention to the details and clear, frequent communications increase the likelihood of success.

A view from the top – Tips 4 The Big Chair

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Want A Result, Offered A Process

I try to deal in real, tactical issues. Strategy becomes an explanation of what happened the last time.

However, I have been working with a client who made a make or buy decision to purchase some business services. Maybe we were asking the wrong people, but what came back were all these offers to run a process, as if the result was incidental.

Maybe it’s our litigious environment, or changing economy, but we couldn’t seem to find anyone who was as interested in the desired result as we are.

Several years ago I was selling a software company that had lost its technical staff. We had a software product we had to hold together through sale, so we brought in some outsourcing gurus. They would be oh so happy to make us so happy, but first they had to run their process. Pay now, please.

A week later, we had a catastrophic failure of the product and were swamped by irate customer calls. We called our new guys and were told it would be a couple of months before they would be able to complete their process and then address fixing our problem. Oh, and we certainly hope you’re still around to pay our fees.

I went into complete BSC mode to posse up a team to fix the software. I don’t deal well with uncertainty.

The owners took steps to get their deposit back.

Technically we had a happy ending, because the catastrophic failure was fixed in two days, but the gut dropping horror of not knowing stays with me. Businesswise, it was a draw, which I would categorize as a disaster to our former gurus.

If somebody needs to buy a result, sell them that result or sit down.

Consider your Focus.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Zeitgeist or The Spirit Of The Times, or temporary craziness, occurs in business, too. Over the past few years watching disintermediation of industry after industry has not only terminated scores of businesses, but also dramatically changed the business processes of the survivors. 

There are still top down organizations trying to hold off new customer-driven competitors, while increasing pressure strains remaining resources. But fewer of them. 

Remember reengineering? That worked pretty well...for a while. 

The management pyramid? Was that in Egypt? 

Took a while to figure out that best value just means lowest price. And figure out, figure out, figure out. 

Y2K? Dodged that bullet. Whew! 

Participative management? Fewer places to participate these days. 

Doing-more-with-less seems to keep morphing, popping up like a champagne cork on the tide. Maybe because it’s not a prescription but a description. 

In How To Create A Mind, Ray Kurzweil says that being early is just as bad as being late. He’s been successful in the inventing business for almost 50 years, and has been early, on time, and late.

Taking advantage of the now
How do you sift the media-anointed from the real? 

Alan Kay recommended, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”  For many of us, we’re moving the ball smartly, trying to find the end zone.  

Which means throwing out many of the analytical tools that will tell you when you’ve committed too much, adopting the tools that encourage carrying on until game’s over.  

I liked Bonnie Raitt’s observation, “Wow! Twenty years to become an overnight success.”

The future shows up regardless.

Springtime. We need a rainmaker

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wall of Shame

A site owner told me he was taking down his “Wall of Shame” or leaderboard, showing the top contributors to his site. It was an administrative headache as users changed their posting patterns. He was most upset about power users who had been thrown off the site, but their cumulative contribution continued to show.

Dave Eggers’ unsettling book, The Circle, recommended by JBat, provides some insights about personal and marketing addiction to leaderboards and potential uses and consequences.

Although I had not joined the site for the leaderboard, didn’t discover it until I got the notice I was on it from the site owners, the leaderboard subsequently did drive my contribution, and when it came down, my participation diminished. The site became less of a priority.

I’m just reporting my behavior change. There was no encouragement/discouragement, just a page that got more compelling over time. I’m pretty driven when I’m browsing, and I spent a lot of time glancing at that page.

Nothing cynical or damaging. An insight into what works.

On another site, they ended their Wall of Shame thinking it might be an increasing discouragement to the other 99%.  The members who were contributing to the site changed dramatically. Contributions are down and posted by a different group. Not overnight, but over weeks and months.

I noticed that the editorial contributions of the independent writers is tighter, closer to the site owner’s desires, and less interesting.  That could be maturation of the community, a change of the participant’s focus or something else. I think it’s too big to be a conspiracy.

The Wall of Shame is a powerful tool.

See how Cost Goes Both Ways

Friday, March 7, 2014


Marc’s boss said, “With all your accomplishments, I don’t see your ego.”

Marc said, “I win.”

Feel the heat, Dune Leadership Lessons