Friday, October 31, 2008

Black People are Voting!

These Daily Kos posts are just too fascinating to ignore. Electing an African American President, if it happens, will be a big deal....it's not like racism is dead or anything. Check this out.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/10/31/54758/404/148/647683

"SFIL"

The biggest fear most people seem to have regarding the outcome of next week's US election is that it will be hijacked. Having proven already in past elections that the US has trouble actually exercising it's democratic process properly, the fear seems well founded. On that note, this post on Daily Kos caught my eye for it's in-your-face bluntness. The fact that at this time it already has over 700 comments suggests it caught the attention of few others too.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/10/31/94424/603/61/647786

Value vs. F'ing around

Last night over dinner, a friend of mine was enthusiastically filling me in on the progress her company is making. New this, new that. Invest here, invest there. Getting listened to, doing stuff, making stuff happen.

I like this person. One one hand I appreciate her enthusiasm. It's good.

On the other hand, I believe she is naively misguided....and (surprise) I told her so.

Two questions. First, how are sales? She knew the answer. Marginally down.

Second: How is profitability? I knew the answer. It's not what this organization has ever worried about.

I pointed out to her, that (in my humble opinion) spending lots of money, in fact more money than ever before to tread water or even sink below it is not progress. It's failure. Raw, ego centered botching of business basics. Profitability, of which I'm sure there's still some, is in the toilet.

It's the kind of predictable failure that enables not-so-sharp people like me to go ahead and predict the future. What she doesn't see....but soon will....is inevitable.

There will be lay-offs. By Christmas, January at the latest. Crazy perks, like bringing your neighbours pet to the Children's groundhog day party will be gone. Other expenses, like travel and meetings which this company overdoes on a grand scale will be cut back to nothing. Then there will be the inevitable search for ever-greater efficiencies. Why does a company with only a limited number of products need a head office of 100 people? There will be more lay-offs.

Then one day, the investors in this company will really wake up. Where is the value in this organization? In it's product? In it's back office and administrative capabilities? It's distribution network? Probably not. In fact, it's probably no where.

So now what? There's nothing like being stuck in an investment. Sure the lifestyle is good...and f'ing around, playing manager is fun. But no business is an island. When the recognition sets in that there is no value in the business and none has been created despite millions and millions in investments, then the fighting between the investors and finger-pointing on the management team will be spectacular.

Trying to be helpful, I suggested to my friend that given her capability, enthusiasm and desire to grow, she should start trying to influence a more thoughtful, business-like direction for the organization before the inevitable happens.

You know, she's good. I think she gets it. I don't think she'll be one of the ones laid off.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dude, step away from the office

These are stressful times.

Today my broker called. He's been terrific through the market melt-down - keeping me informed, getting advice, sharing insight. I feel well looked after and frankly, lucky he's my broker.

What's happening in the market hasn't been easy for him. What we're going through now is unique, once-in-a-lifetime type stuff. He's seen a lot. He hasn't seen this.

The other day he was telling me how he was so pre-occupied, he only shaved half his face (unfortunately, as goofy as that sounds I actually had a better story - I showered and only dried my hair! - we had a good laugh). I feel for him.

Today he called to share his thoughts on the lessons learned from what we've just been through and how to protect for it in the future. He had an excellent plan.

You know, I appreciate it.

If more businesses would learn from the difficult experiences they go through, they'd stop going through so many difficult experiences. However, today I had a different thought for him.

"You're on the wrong track."

I know what's happening because I'm seeing it everywhere. Faced with adversity, uncertainty, fear...and frankly in some businesses, too much downtime.....people like my broker are working themselves into a frenzy. They're working overtime to come up with solutions to save the world, fix the past and cure cancer. All in one fell swoop.

You know what...he doesn't need to. It's the wrong thing to do. Knee-jerking and over-reacting into crazy but well-meaning directions is exactly how to compound the mess that's already out there.

This just doesn't apply to my broker. I know a business owner making the corporate version of the same mistake. He's like a crazed pyro-maniac lighting new fires everywhere he goes. Unfortunately, there won't be much left standing if he keeps it up.

So, here's the direction I gave my broker: your job is to maximize the return on my investment. There is RAW POTENTIAL to do that everywhere I look right now. At least in my lifetime THERE WILL NEVER BE A BETTER TIME to invest in great companies at huge discounts. Don't worry about inventing a better way to protect me so the next time this happens I don't get killed. I'll be dead anyways. GO AND MAKE ME RICH. Stop over-thinking this.

And for the business owner: man, you MUST get a plan - and stick to it. No, the economy isn't great and sales will slow down. But your product needs some attention. Now you're going to have some time to work on it. You're not going to execute any of that other stuff anyways. Blow this opportunity, AND YOU WILL BE OUT OF BUSINESS.

So, bottom line.... yes, there's stress and in many cases fear. But working long hours and coming up with new, crazy directions (working dumb) isn't the answer. The answer is probably something pretty basic. Something fundamental. And once you've figured it out....get out of the office...before you break something!

Funny Money

For my friend, who asked a great question about why the Canadian dollar has fallen back off the Scarborough Bluffs into Lake Ontario - here's some insight from commenters at the Globe and Mail. They make as little or much sense as anyone else who's taking stabs at an explanation.

"Given our productivity, other than selling our resources, we have little to offer. Thus, our dollar is falling to where it should. Even our vaunted surplus is disappearing faster than we can blink as the drop in commodity price hits all aspects of government revenue (consumption taxes, corporate taxes, royalties, etc.), and has negative spin off effects into the general community which will only further drop government revenue. Lastly, our exports will fall and, since we produce nothing ourselves, imports will fall slower." b W from Canada

"I like the widespread denial in Canada and the Pavlovian response on blaming US. Housing bubble in Canada is as bad as in US, just read the other day that prices in New Foundland appreciated 30% in the last year, leave alone SK...Banks are not in better shapes, some of them CIBC and TD made their bets in US, too. Wait until, house prices drop significantly in Canada and all those mortagages become sour. The really abberation was having the CAD$ appreciating from 0.63 to 1.10 from 2002 to 2007. The CAD$ is reverting back to the mean, sometimes overshoots on its way down or up." FLORIN ARSENE


"Currency may regain its vitality quickly after funds stop buying U.S. dollars, yen to cover short positions, CIBC's Shenfeld says"

So, the reason why the US dollar is going is because of demand.

Not exactly reassuring, seeing as it implies a lot of trader are getting caught short (HA!) out there, but at least it's an explanation.

ie: not capital flight to security, but capital repatriation to cover the bills. Tiu Leek from Here

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lehman Lay-off Dude

Here's a well done, moderately NSFW video of what it's like to not be with Lehman any more. Love the speed-training with shower curtain.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Accountability...and the Comfort Zone

On Thursday I had dinner with a good friend who's struggling to define a new path. Frankly, she needs to. Her software business is struggling and she's been sitting around too long watching it implode. For a couple of important months now she's been seemingly paralyzed, unable, unwilling and unmotivated to move on to something else. Waiting and watching isn't what she can afford to do...the stakes are big. Simply riding the current rails into the ground will hurt some people who are pretty important to her.

I don't believe I necessarily give good personal advice. But I care, I try to help and I try to be practical.

In this case, my initial advice kind of surprised me, although apparently I've given it before. What was it?

Get out. Get away from your family, your friends, me. Jump on the subway. Take a trip. Go to a bar. Do anything that isn't what you typically do.

Why? Because it will do two things for you. First, it will change your picture. Believe me, the world looks different on the subway. Or from 30,000 feet.

It looks really different in Arizona's!

Second, doing it will give you confidence.

No, jumping the subway isn't big. But if not's what you do - and you do it - and you survive - and you come home with a different picture - I guarantee you will have more confidence. And confidence, including the confidence to break whatever is holding you back IS huge. Try it two or three times and you will be hooked...and moving forward.

My other advice to her was way more practical. Start making a networking list. Make a list of people who know you're a serious talent and can help you.

Have you ever done this? For yourself or for others?

I think we all come to this exercise (at least those of us over 40 who don't have 900 friends on MySpace/Facebook) with the early thought "I don't know that many people". It's always the wrong reaction. Half an hour later, we had 35-40 names for her to call.

Making sure she calls should be easy. Early next week I'm calling her. She knows I'm calling. Her job is to have made the calls she's agreed to make. I'm her accountability consultant, her moving-on conscience. She will make this work.

By the way, my friend is a serious talent. Now in software; a Masters in biotech; ran her own very successful executive search firm in Toronto and New York; a trained OD specialist that has worked with Fortune 500 firms. She'd love to get back into the OD area. If you know anyone....??

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Talent is Over-rated...

....is the title of a too-long piece in this week's Fortune Magazine. So I didn't read it all. But there are enough pictures and captions to get the point.

Bottom line - according to the caption at the top of Page 1: THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM ABOUT THE "THE NATURAL" IS A MYTH. THE REAL PATH TO GREAT PERFORMANCE IS A MATTER OF CHOICE. THE QUESTION IS HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?

Great. All I have to do is want it more and try harder. That's depressing. I was really convinced I could simply wing it better....!!

Over the past few weeks I've been meeting and talking to everyone who will listen about what makes a great, and not-so-great CEO. I'm not so sure simply trying harder is the answer. Here's what I've heard some keys to success are:
  • experience - especially big company experience - go and get trained in places where they've at least thought about what they're doing - how to plan, how to execute, how to throw a great x-mas party
  • brains - do you think Google, Microsoft and RIM are being run by dummies? they're not; sharpen up!
  • insecurity - nothing drives drive like proving to your father you're better than he is - all those kids with perfect family lives and too much money - they're not going anywhere - why would they? they don't have anything to prove
  • ego - insecurity's macho partner - knowing you're the chosen one even when nobody else can remember your name is a huge advantage - these people may be obnoxious to be around but they're not going anywhere...and then they're running the place
  • luck - talk to any insecure egomaniac who's made it big; even they will tell you they got lucky somewhere along the way - of course their spouses will be the first to reassure them what we already all know - "but honey, you make your own luck"
  • common sense - which as we all know, is very uncommon....therefore providing a unique competitive advantage that most of us walking around bumping into walls don't have
So, sure keeping trying harder. Just recognize regardless of what Fortune Magazine says, some people really are walking around with advantages you'll have trouble overcoming.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So much to do, so little chance of it all working

It's planning time again. Many organizations are heads down, working on getting their acts together for next year.

This year, there isn't as much confidence in simply winging it as there was last year. Little if any of the grandiose growth that was supposed to happen in '08 has occurred. Combine that with an unstable economic outlook for '09 and there's recognition that getting it wrong next year could have serious, if not fatal consequences (although in true Canadian fashion, all the CFO's I know are silently/not-so-silently high-fiving themselves on the decline of the Canadian dollar. That, more than anything is going to save a few jobs this year).

There's one fundamental issue every organization I know seems to struggle with. Defining, the small number of priorities that will actually make a difference in the year ahead.

Nothing stymies success like taking on the world of things that could possibly be done. First, tackling everything just about guarantees that nothing gets done. Second, when everybody is doing everything, accountability is impossible. Third, by tackling everything the high leverage activities remain invisible, under-resourced and untapped.

Figuring out the 3 things that WILL make a difference next year, not the 57 that COULD, isn't difficult. I try to keep the following things in mind.
  • Perfection isn't necessary. If I'm close to picking the right 3 priorities, I will have have a much greater impact on the business by executing them well than burying the perfect priority under 56 others.
  • Leverage, leverage, leverage. I call them super-priorities. Do them well and they will suck up 2/3rds of all the other cool stuff that could have been done. There's always priorities that have leverage way beyond what they look like on the surface.
  • Why? What is the overall goal I'm trying to achieve? Growth? Profitability? Market place recognition? Everything else needs to tie directly, and neatly back to that goal. If it doesn't and if the question 'why?' can't be answered simply in about 6 words, then the priority isn't a priority, it's a make work project. Guaranteed it won't get done.
Clarfiying the key priorities works because it ensures they get resourced and managed. People can be held accountable. Progress can be measured. Simplicity, not complexity is a fundamental key to success.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

W.

Saw the movie last night.

I wouldn't call it a great movie, just disturbingly real - including one of those weak, what the f? endings that leaves you wondering: a) does this mean W a lousy center fielder and it's a good thing he didn't play baseball? b) he just lost the ball in the lights and that's a metaphor for something way bigger, or c) why do I keep getting confused at endings like this?

The major themes of the movie, seem suprisingly close (in my mind) to what you might imagine they'd be, based on what we know:
  • W - major daddy complex, in WAY over his head, driven to be the 'decider'
  • Dick Cheney - scary, dangerous, wrong and unrepentant
  • Iraq - it's the oil baby
  • Iran - it's oil and world domination baby
  • Carl Rove - everywhere, all the time, not his job
  • Colin Powell - smart, right, weak and in the wrong place at the wrong time
  • Donald Rumsfeld - mildly nuts and barely relevant
  • George Tenet - he knew, but that wasn't what this was about
  • George Bush senior - class act, cut from a different cloth, could fix everything for W. except the world
  • Barbara - Bush
Perhaps the only portrayal that surprised me was that of Condoleeza Rice - who (with apologies to my friends who know I'm obsessed with PH) reminded me of a black Paris Hilton - a sweetly hidden, intellectual suck-up (I know, you can't believe I used PH and intellectual in the same sentence - you're just missing it!).

Bottom line, skip the movie. You saw it all on TV.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Here's a post already!

Ok, so this is bad. I've had multiple complaints about my blogging frequency and lack of new material. Sorry, I've been busy.

Some thoughts. First, some time ago I decided to try out Twitter. There was a pretty good article in Fortune on it and back in the early summer, at the Search Engine Strategies conference here in Toronto, one of the sessions was dedicated to Twitter as a marketing tool.

My experiment with it has been limited. Like 6 posts. I follow 2 other twitterers and 2 follow me. Pretty pathetic. Despite that, I've had complaints!

Recently I quoted a post on Daily Kos about Sarah Palin. The post essentially suggests (you can read it) that focusing on anything other than her boobs would be a waste of time. Given all the noise about her at the time, it seemed like one of the most accurate observations on her I had seen. Ok it was a little crude. But, you have to admit, it's not like she has any other outstanding attributes.

However, apparently I offended at least one reader. Sorry. Maybe I should have said "focus on the fact that she's a boob"! (it's ok, I understand being offended :))

A while ago, someone said to me "who invented Republicans, anyways?". I don't have the answer. I just know that the past 8 years have been a disaster (who could foresee that electing people who don't believe in government AS the government would turn out bad?!) and how anyone in their right mind could put an idiot like her one step away from the Presidency is...dumb...unpatriotic....and good for funky glasses sales.

Ok, I'm on a roll. I have a comment on dog owner/walkers. You know those people with two (never one) of those crappy ass little yappy dogs...on those long leashes so they can go up and crap on your lawn? Did it ever dawn on any of you people that first of all, some of us aren't so enamoured with your crappy ass little dogs. We still wonder why you take better care of them than you do of your kids. Secondly, now that it's fall and gets dark early, walking your crappy ass little dogs all dressed in black is great f...ng way to get killed. Don't worry, your dogs will get out of the way...I know, I've tried. But you, walking with your back to me with your dogs strung all over the neighbourhood and me not seeing you til the last moment...you're done. At least get a white hat. And if I run you over, I'm letting your dogs off the leash so they can go play in traffic.

Now, on a more serious side. I've been telling everyone I know about the book 'Rise of the Creative Class" by Richard Florida. Very, very stimulating book. I'm hardly early to it, it was written a few years ago. Florida's studies show a compelling connection between the economic health of a city and the appeal of that city to creative people. His links between the gayness and ethnic diversity of a city and it's economic success are fascinating. Think San Francisco, Stanford and Silicon Valley. Now think Waterloo, Ontario.

University of Waterloo is one of the world's best math and sciences universities. It's one of the first places Microsoft goes for fresh talent. Walk it's halls and you will be overwhelmed, certainly by it's ethnic diversity, perhaps not so much it's gayness (although, I'm sure it's there).

Now go outside the University. Notice all the white people. Talk to those in the know about the success of the tech community in Waterloo outside of RIM. What the honest ones will tell you is 'don't believe the hype'. Waterloo is no Silicon Valley.

A friend of mine recently attended a well organized and very serious 'prosperity' event in Waterloo where the 'titans of Waterloo industry' (seriously, she said they called themselves that), pondered the options for attracting and retaining the best and the brightest to/in Waterloo. Two simple questions for my friend: first, of the large group that attended, how many weren't white? her answer: one; second, how many were gay?...her answer...gay?!

Maybe, I'm wrong and Florida should just stick to being the Sunshine State. But in my mind, until Waterloo crosses the diversity and openess chasm (and until RIM blows up and spins off a few hundred loaded and brilliant entrepreneurs), it will never achieve the magnet status it so craves.

But hey, I live in Toronto, what do I know?