Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Social Media - Creative Democracy

Last night at Chapman University I heard Chris Brogan, a self-described community and social media "rock star" speak about the power of social media and how it can be harnessed for our businesses. His views on what social networking is, or maybe should be, are quite interesting. Some might even accuse him of being an ideologue, but I think there's merit in his claims.

Take the idea that social media is a long lost method to enforce democracy. He believes that whether using twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social media, we can better have our voices heard, and responded to. He had many examples of this, no doubt drawn from his new book. His argument seems compelling when you consider that the likes of Facebook and twitter have become one of the few places where we can post our rants and feel free to express our thoughts.

In fact, companies worldwide are discovering how to listen to the chatter on sites like twitter to determine what customer concerns to address, what people may be looking for in the way of products and services, or when to avoid selling to a person or demographic. So, social media is serving everyone with their own platform, the proverbial soap box, to have their voices heard.

What better way to hear what your neighbors, friends, coworkers, or employees really think than to allow access to these media and listen. The idea here is to hear and connect with people, individuals, so that you can address their specific needs and concerns. There's a hidden message here: social media is all about listening...not announcing. I'll address that in tomorrow's blog.

For now, let the idea sink in that, once again, we each have a voice and an avenue to listen and be heard worldwide.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Failure Is Not An Option

Ever wonder what are you options when approaching a new project?

Often as Project Managers we learn to be pessimistic. Our approach is to consider all the risks to the project, what can lead the project to failure, in order to mitigate those risks. This approach could easily lead to the project manager acting as the fore-teller of doom, rather than the soothsayer of a bloom.

What if our approach was slightly different? We could instead focus on success and insure that we take all the steps necessary to insure it. This is simply a matter of change of perspective and a paraphrase of the line from the movie Apollo 13, "failure is not an option."

My suggestion: live every aspect of your life, whether personal, professional, or your own business, accepting that failure is not an option. Your mind will then deliver you to your destination: success.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Entrepreneur-As-Risk-Taker Story Debunked -- AGAIN

You may have read my more recent post about how employment is a higher risk endeavor than entrepreneurship. I received a few direct comments about this post, including one that claimed I got the risk-taker attitude of entrepreneurs mis-matched.

The argument was that an entrepreneur is more like the poker player since he's taking risks AND he has skin in the game, in the form of the money he uses to make bets. However, an engineer only weighs options. I agree the entrepreneur has skin in the game. Nevertheless, I hold firm that his risk taking is not so much based on luck, as in a poker gambler.

A modified analogy is that an entrepreneur takes calculated risks weighing the pros and cons of a situation, as an engineer, but puts his own skin in the game like a gambler or investor. He understands the risks and often mitigates them. Mitigating risks doesn't equate to only one option: taking risks. Rather, it's a decision-making process that requires a person to choose how to respond to the risk. This means he weighs whether the risks can be avoided, environment factors changed to reduce risk, or the endeavor abandoned since the risk is too great.

As a compliment to this thought, I found an interesting blog entry today. I was surfing on Tim Ferriss' blog and the website to his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, when I found a post about another book, Leap, where apparently the author's main argument is that entrepreneurs are NOT high risk takers, but rather risk mitigators. In fact, the example used in the blog is that of Bill Gates. I highly recommend reading Tim's blog on the subject.

The point is that an entrepreneur may take risks, but seldom high risks and often after weighing the severity of and options on how to deal with each risk. In other words, no matter what's your risk tolerance level, there's a way for you to be an entrepreneur.

So, what are you waiting for?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The High Risk of Being Employed

A few conversations have surrounded announcements about my start up business. There's one that keeps popping up: the "high" risk of starting a business. I'm continuously challenged by people asking why I'm not just looking for another employer.

My response is simple: there's too much risk in working for someone else!

Is that shocking? Do you disagree? Let me explain. From the onset of my employment 27 years ago at the age of 11 to now, I've seen the individual employee in the U.S. become more and more a free agent, but only in that he can be terminated or laid off at any moment. From time-to-time, depending on the market conditions for a particular service, expertise and how rare your they are, that person can also maneuver from one employer to the employer with continuous responsibility, salary, and benefit improvements. However, for the most part, professional free-agent business people don't get the same perquisites that professional free-agent athletes do.

In fact, the only perk that continues to pervade the space is the ability for the employer to decide when they need a person and when they don't. Rightfully, the employer makes the decisions when to hire or fire.

You can argue that as an employee you affect the employer's decision and can maneuver your way to success, insuring that you remain employed while others fall by the way-side. This often requires a certain amount of political sophistication and much energy that can be better spent.

In fact, the amount of effort and types of actions required resemble business lobbying in the political arena. They're both futile efforts that continuously reduce the total available expendable energy toward activities that detract from the main line of business of an organization. This effort can instead be used to earn profit or a better way of life. This process is what economists refer to as Rent Seeking and, in my opinion, it is one of the reasons for the economic inequities that we witness in our version of capitalism.

Even if we accept rent-seeking behavior, we're missing the obvious point. Assuming you're able to affect the decision to remain employed, you're still only an instrument that affects decisions and not one that makes them! The decision to retain employees is ultimately your boss's, not yours. What's more, even if you can affect decisions today, you may find someone else that does a better job of it tomorrow. And then you're falling off the way side.

Though I've not experienced this first hand, I've certainly seen the consequences in the lives of friends, family and neighbors who are in constant movement from employer to employer, even when their services and skills are not commoditized.

This constant change and our inability to control the risks highly resembles the risks of gambling. Our ability to affect some of the decisions doesn't detract from it. Sure, working as an employee is not like the throw of dice or betting on a roulette table. Those require just blind luck and a healthy tolerance of high risk. However, employment does resemble card-game gambling, like poker or blackjack, where you have more control of how much you win and loose. Heck, you can even change tables like you do employers, going from one dealer to the next and hoping for something different. Nevertheless, you're still gambling at a game where, as is well known, in the end the "house always wins." Even card games are high risk.

I'm not trying to promote gambling, I'm only arguing that working as an employee is a high-risk approach for generating income, much the way gambling is at a casino.

Compared to that, entrepreneurship is a substantially lower risk endeavor. Aside from the fact that you make all the decisions about keeping yourself employed , you also control the risks that directly affect your business and income. In fact, the idea that entrepreneurship is high risk is born of misunderstanding about start ups. Much of entrepreneurship is about focusing on risks and determining how they can be manipulated to help you increase your revenue, find customers or new markets to target.

Just as being an employee resembles a casino gambler, being an entrepreneur resembles being an engineer. Engineers in every field are taught to constantly weigh the risks and benefits of their particular designs. For example, when making a new circuit board an engineer my determine there are three different microchips he could use for his application. Each is able to process the type of data fed into it to deliver the desired results. However, each chip may accomplish this with different trade offs. Once may produce more heat than others, thus requiring a larger heat sink and better ventilation design, but its manufacturer may have limited production capacity. Another may require a particularly expensive housing or board connection, but it would require substantially less physical space. Yet another may calculate the results faster or more elegantly, but have a higher failure rate.

So, depending on the particular application of the board, the budget allocated for the board production, and how efficiently the board can be manufactured with each design, or what failure rates are acceptable for the product, the engineer will choose one of the chips. The decision will ultimately affect how well the product sells and how much profit the company realizes. What's important is that the decision is an intensive process of weighing benefits and trade-offs that focuses on risks and rewards of each design. It's certainly not a rent-seeking effort. All decisions ultimately affect the top and bottom line.

So, as you sit back and ponder your role and risk tolerance, ask yourself this question: are you a gambler or an engineer?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Keep an Open Mind

I was reflecting this weekend on my BHAG to find an employer by September 14. If you read this blog regularly, you know I've not found an employer, but started my own company.

So, did I fail at reaching my BHAG?

I'm certainly not employed by a health care company or any other organization that provides services to increase people's quality of life. What's more, as a business owner I may not make much money from the onset. So, I'm not really generating any revenue right away and, as a result, I have no real initial income for my investment.

However, I KNOW I've succeeded at my goal! Why? Simply, had I not set the BHAG to find work in less time than the well known averages, I wouldn't have gone through the transformation I did to help me realize my priorities. I couldn't know what my wants and needs were and how I could fulfill them by becoming an entrepreneur.

There are other reasons I believe I've succeeded. I've not yet announced the nature of my new venture, nor our services, but I can tell you that the services are targeted to improve people's quality of life. This fits in with my BHAG. Also, I started the business approximately two weeks ago. A week ahead of the BHAG schedule.

I've gained other things in the process. I've become a master of my own destiny. Whether my business succeeds or fails will solely depend on me. However, I certainly don't intend to fail, and, if and when I do, I'll act as the child falling many times while learning to walk: I'll pick up and try again, with no loss of enthusiasm and no confusion as to what I must and will do.

I encourage you then to set extraordinary goals and tell yourself every day that you've already achieved them in the future. Your mind will then think of a way to reach that goal. It will pave the way to your success.

This next point is important: Be sure to keep open to your subconscious mind's suggestions. Sometimes they'll seem wacky and as though they don't fit, but consider them. They may very well take you on "The Road Less Travelled," but one that'll help you reach your destination faster, better, and more satisfied. If they're completely off the wall and force you to loose focus, then recycle them like yesterday's paper and make room for something new.

I'll reiterate this as it is the most important point: Whatever you wish to achieve in life, always start by setting your BHAG and develop a plan to achieve it, knowing full well that you will.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You Are Where You Need to Be

As I reflect back over the last few months, I realize I'm a substantially different person than I used to be. I have a calmer demeanor, exude confidence, and am focused on exactly what I want to get out of my life, personally and professionally. In fact, this period has helped me crystallize the want and need to work for myself in very short order.

Today as I was thinking about this, a phrase came to me, "you are where you need to be." No doubt I'm paraphrasing someone. That doesn't make it any less of a discovery. I'm living the circumstances I need to live in order to spend more time with my family, discover what's really important to us, pickup a new sport, hone my personal branding message, sharpen my professional skills, and refocus my career goals.

Would I have considered starting a business if I was still employed and getting a steady paycheck? Probably not. I would still be talking about it, like a far off plan, a fairy tale, rather than do something about it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still in search of employment. I still see employment and consulting as a mutually beneficial relationship where my focus is in acquiring the funds and skills necessary to continue my daily efforts to create a healthy new business.

What's the crux of this post? You too are exactly where you need to be. We all are. It may mean that you're doing well at home and work, or that you're at the opposite end of that spectrum, out of work, late on your mortgage payment and going through a divorce. In both set of circumstances, you're exactly where you need to be. In the former case, you're likely reaping the rewards of your hard work. In the latter, you're learning many lessons that will make you become better in living your life.

No matter the circumstances, look at them as an entrepreneur would: how can you work the circumstances so that you gain something positive out of them...and realize, you are where you need to be!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

You may have noticed I've not posted anything here over the past couple of days. I've spent some time thinking after reading a few books.

I recently finished Think and Grow Rich, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and I just started The 4-Hour Workweek. I tell you, if you want to break the bonds of employment and start a life of financial freedom, these books give you a good start. They're all very inspiring.

All three books focus on financial freedom through business ownership. Mind you, this is not the same thing as self-employment. I won't get into much detail on the difference between the two, except that the latter denotes being an individual contributor and the former is about productivity increase and knowing how to make money work for you while enjoying all that life has to offer.

As I finished Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and started reading The 4-Hour Workweek last night, I had a short conversation with my wife. I told her she too should read at least Rich Dad, Poor Dad. She asked me for a synopsis of the book. That eventually lead to a discussion on how I've had three powerful business ideas over the last 10 years and hadn't acted on any. In fact, the first two ideas have lead others to prosper and resulted in nothing except the "could've," "would've" talks, worth less than the time spent telling them.

That made me think, "what's holding me back from acting on the third." The third idea is fairly new. It's something that was triggered by hearing a speaker at Chapman University and some follow up conversations I had at home. It's a great idea, if I may say so. In fact, we started the company earlier this year, but because of my unemployment, I focused on finding my next employer instead.

In any case, the conversation with my wife last night eventually lead to a couple of stark questions from her: "You've had three ideas so far. Are you going to let this latest one get away too? What's holding you back?"

Those were sledge-hammer of questions.

They made me wake up and pause...until 2:30 this morning. I was still afraid...of starting something that I couldn't finish...of losing everything, including the shirt on my back. But then I asked another question of myself: am I afraid of failure, or success?

Failure I can cope with. After all, that's our natural state of learning. When I was born, I didn't just start running. I crawled, tried to stand and fell many times before I could take the first step, let alone run. Failures I cherish. They always get me a step closer to where I need to be and, by learning from them, I insure I never repeat them.

What about fear of success? You're likely asking, "how can you be afraid of success?" Simply, fear of success is fear of having to let go of the illusory safety of working for someone else. It's the fear that I'll be so engulfed in our business that I won't have time for family, friends or anything else in life outside of work.

This is where the book The 4-Hour Workweek comes in. Focusing on productivity, rather than time management, on the 80/20 rule will save me from a life spent only to work. Yes! If the book's 30 year old author can do it, be wealthy, and live his dream life, so can I. I have nothing less than him.

That which sits between my ears will be as creative, thoughtful, ingenuous as the next guy. Where I find I'm weak in a business area, I won't loose time trying to strengthen it. I won't sink endless hours focusing on a weakness that, at best, I'll change to a mediocre skill. I'll find the information and hire the best person to do it. I'll focus on my strengths of planning, organization and quality execution to insure my successful and balanced life, not to mention life of plentiful wealth.

I'll close this entry with Robert Frost's famous lines from the poem "The Road Not Taken:"

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Role of Naysayers

Ever wonder why there are more naysayers when you declare your plan for achieving goals?

It seems every time you share a clear plan, naysayers come out of the wood work. You get various people's opinion why something won't work. At times like this I remember a documentary I saw on Richard Branson and his propensity for taking a no as a challenge to accomplish that very thing that was rejected. As well, Warren Buffet has a tendency to do the opposite of what the financial market is doing.

So, you'll do well to ignore the masses and rely on your gut feeling. You'll still want to seek the advice of your trusted advisers, those whose opinions have shaped your success.

For the rest, every time you state a plan or declare your want to accomplish a particular goal, if you don't get push-back, then you should be worried. Clear plans and ambitions scare people. So, the bigger the opposition from the masses, the more likely you're on the right path.

Keep faith and continue with your plans. Results will follow.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Six Myths About Universal Health Care

I found some great links on the myths of health care that I'd like to share with you here:

The second is from a blog by Dr. Bill Crounse who is the Senior Director of Worldwide Health at Microsoft. If you're interested to learn about health care reform, I highly recommend reading this blog on a regular basis.

Enjoy.

Friday, September 4, 2009

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Fear Not

I recently read an article bout how constructive fear can lead to positive results. The author believes that too much optimism leads to loss of drive to accomplish goals.

I completely disagree with this line of thinking.

I'm a big fan of optimism and BHAGs (Big Hairy A## Goals). Fear is definitely something negative that I don't condone in the work place nor job search. Fear enforces negative thinking and behavior. It’s especially dangerous since it can so easily amplify and lead to a debilitating state of procrastination and pessimism.

On the other hand, setting audacious goals and accepting that “failure is not an option” can do nothing but produce good results. Napoleon Hill in his famous book Think and Grow Rich brings up some very good points on the subject. None of our successful business role models were pessimists. They set goals and never accepted failure. They didn’t just stop by setting goals, but by constantly thinking about those goals and creating plans that helped their realization.

I admit, BHAGs without plans are nothing more than thinking you're going somewhere, hoping you'll get there, but having no definite path you'll take to it. Planning is key and must be a part of any goal setting/achieving exercise.

Mind you, optimism alone is not enough. Napoleon Hill reminds us to practice the seven positive emotions:
  • Desire
  • Faith
  • Love
  • Sex
  • Enthusiasm
  • Romance
  • Hope

And to avoid the seven negative emotions:

  • Fear
  • Jealousy
  • Hatred
  • Revenge
  • Greed
  • Superstition
  • Anger

Notice that Fear is on top of this list! The number one habit to avoid holds as true for finding work as for setting sales, development, and delivery goals at work.

With regard to setting an unrealistic timeline, we can certainly read the statistics on how long ON AVERAGE it takes an executive to find work, but who actually sets their goals based on averages? Do any of us think, or better, SHOULD anyone ever be satisfied with setting life goals around averages?

I disagree we need a sense of urgency through constructive fear. I suggest we can have a sense of urgency by setting BHAGs that aim to beat the average anything. This BELIEF, not want or wish, that you WILL land in a shorter time than the majority of the population is what leads to a constructive urgency to accomplish it. In fact, it’s faith, desire and hope that will help you plan and pave the road to success.

Let me explain what I mean by belief. Complete belief or “knowing you’ll achieve your goals” is the same type of belief that you have that the sun will rise tomorrow. That night time will be followed by day. It's a truism. A fact.

I admit, this level of belief in your own success is difficult to achieve. Even if you achieve it, you may sometimes lose faith in it, but that’s only a sign of fear. It’s fear promoted by negative news that feeds into a lack of belief.

Knowing you’ll achieve your goals requires confidence in your own abilities and skills. And once you have this belief you’ll be able to go to sleep dreaming about your success and how to achieve your goals, waking in the morning KNOWING that you will. Failure to achieve BHAGs, then, is not a question of too much optimism so much as it is in not having enough belief in yourself and your ability to achieve them.

I suggest, whether we’re setting goals at work, to gain new business, or in finding our next employer, we become the eternal optimists and draw our path to success through our thorough planing and absolute belief that we can achieve our goals.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How Can I Forget

This post's subject has been brewing in the back of my mind for some time. I wondered whether to post it here or to my private journal due to its very personal nature. I realize, in the end, I want to share the thought with my friends, family and readers.

I learned a couple of weeks ago that my father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. I'm still absorbing what this means. My mind's racing with what we need to do to treat him. This is a bit challenging given he's on a trip to Iran. We're lucky my wife, one of our dearest friends, Ferchie, and many relatives are pharmacists, doctors, or somehow involved in the science of providing health care. So, gathering information has been easy.

But I realize I want to take on a more personal project.


You see, my father's a great storyteller. Most people remember their parents reading them children's stories when they were kids. My father never did that. He read me the great works of Iranian poets and philosophers instead. I remember the nights when I sat by his feet and listened to him recite Hafez, bits of Shahnameh, Ferdowsi, or tell me about Avicenna's work. Most of all, I loved his stories about how he grew up and the lessons he learned on the street corners, in the shops, the alleys, from people's follies in the heart of Iran, in Tehran.

This may seem trivial. You have to realize though that he's an eternal optimist. He was born in 1935 and in the midst of Iran's depression. The hard times forced him to start work in a butcher shop at the age of six! He had a hard life growing up, but still managed to pull himself out of the slums of Iran, provide for his family, start a multitude of businesses, and remain politically active. He's successful because he's an optimist...and he has a heck of a sense of humor. I'm proud I got his humor. He's always been my hero and source of inspiration.

Even though he had a hard life, he spoke about the joys of his childhood, of enjoying life and knowing when to say "the hell with it." He often reminds me of the Zorba character from Zorba The Greek with his unrelenting smile, zest for life, and risk-taking behaviors that lead to his many business start-ups. I learned many lessons from his stories that still reverberate in my thoughts.

In the past ten years he's often talked about how he wants to write an autobiography. He tells me he's started the project many times, but the painful memories stopped him each time.

So, I'm taking this project as mine instead. I plan to tell his story. I will capture his life story on audio and video before the memories and his way of telling them are forever lost in the broken synapses of his mind. This'll be a good present for the family and something I can share with our kids, nieces and nephews. I hope to inspire them by his stories as he has done and continues to do with me...and to make them laugh at life, the way he always has.

Business Rating

This post is very short. It's more of a thinking out loud on a blog.

I would love to have a system where I can review employee ratings of a company and its employees, services and products. The personal reviews of individuals would be similar to 360 reviews that companies conduct.

In fact, what if you outsource that whole 360 review process? Imagine a third-party service where you as a supervisor can quickly review responses from anyone your employees have worked with. You'll likely no longer need to conduct annual reviews. A person's strengths and weaknesses are always updated and online for you or the employee to review. You can then take that saved time and do some actual work.

Now, incorporate the ability for current and past employees to rate companies and you who a 360 system that a company can pay for and employees can use for free to determine their future with the firm. Those in the market can quickly research companies that are loved by their employees and each employee's rating too will be posted. Then you'll know what caliber of employees the company already employs. This'll give you another layer of information about a company that you have to painstakingly gather now through individual interviews.

What do you think?

Does anyone know of such service?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Humorous Behavior

The times and life of job seekers is something of interest and, arguably, comedy.

We spend most of our days calling, meeting, talking, and negotiating. Much of what we do at this stage is not really work, unless we're looking up a company or conducting some other research that leads to a useful deliverable like a business or marketing plan. Even then, we may want to gather personal data that, once again, requires a meeting with an insider.

There lies the comedy: we're busy doing what most business people aim to avoid -- meetings! In fact, I be live I've attended more one-on-one and group meetings in the past four month than all four past years combined.

I've met a number of folks that teach courses on what we do. I know of a great software development manager who teaches a class on what everyone wants to know, and a few things they didn't knew they should, about LinkedIn. I admit, that's useful and he's done some genuine work to prepare for the classes he holds. Incidentally, his name is Ted Robison and he can be reached through his LinkedIn profile.

These are the types of activities that keep us sane and prevent us from running to the hills holding a cell phone in one hand, notepad in the other, an ugly grin on our face and maniacal laughter escaping our lips, trying to get away from yet another meeting at a local coffee shop.

What's my suggestion? Find organizations that interest you and volunteer to teach something or lecture on a topic you know. You'll gain at least three advantages by doing this, aside from insuring your spouse doesn't run you out of the house. First, you'll keep busy and deliver something of benefit to someone else. Second, you'll keep your mind sharp and focused on areas that interest you and that may lead to your next role. Third, you'll get to meet some great people that may introduce you to your next opportunity or employer.

So, what do you say? Shall we setup a meeting to talk about it? Or throw all caution to the wind and volunteer to help someone else?