Archive for the 'Business' Category

The Social Media Are Not So New.

Friday, March 21st, 2014

[This is a reprint of a post I initially wrote in December of 2008. I haven’t done a thing to it yet, thus the broken image links, etc.]

Students walking the pier at St. Andrews,
where I studied the Reformation in a former life.

[Note: This is a lightly edited version of the talk I gave at the Austin Social Media Breakfast held on 2 December 2008.]

~ ~ ~

Because it seemed like a good idea at the time, in the mid-90s I took a master’s degree in European history, and because I was going for the glamor, I focused on the Reformation — Martin Luther, John Calvin, Henry VIII, all that.

Little did I know that my study of the social upheaval of the 16th century would come in handy today for understanding the social media of the 21st century. And little did you know that I would be here to explain the connection to you.

Lucky us!

So, in the next 15 minutes I hope my painless little history lesson will I’ll convince you that our oh-so-new social media are very much like the media that have gone before, not because the 16th century enjoyed good WiFi connections, but because people tend to use the media available to them for much the same human purposes. Read the rest of this entry »

Fix everything two ways, learn from everything in multiple ways.

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

“Fix everything two ways” is one of the tenets of the Toyota Production System. It means:

  1. Fix the problem at hand — e.g. the part that doesn’t fit on this car being built.
  2. Figure out and fix the underlying issue that caused the problem to occur at all — e.g. the part is designed badly, the worker doesn’t have the right tool to install the part, the batch of metal used to make the part was inferior, etc.

The concept applies much more widely, of course. (I’m hardly the first to point this out.) Let’s say you see that your kids have tracked mud onto the carpet. There are two fixes:

  1. Remove the fresh smudges on the carpet before they set into stains. (Or, better yet, make the kids do it.)
  2. Put a shoe rack by the door and establish a firm policy that muddy shoes have to come off while you’re still in the entryway, before you ever make it to the carpet.

You get the idea — a specific fix, backed up by a structural fix. It’s a smart practice, in many settings.

Learning Multiple Lessons at Once

There’s a related concept I’ve been playing with that I find similarly useful. I thought of it by juxtaposing the preceding idea with the Confucian saying that an attentive person can learn from either a sage or a fool. From the sage, you learn what to do; from the fool, you learn what not to do. By extension, you can absorb lessons at different layers from virtually any situation — IF you’re paying attention.

My focus here is on business lessons, although again this should generalize across many settings. Basically, it operates along two axes:

  • From the particular to the general. So a particular business challenge might teach you about THIS person with whom you’re doing business (their temperament, quirks, likes and dislikes, etc.) at the same time it teaches you something about your approach to dealing with ANY person in business (assume the best, one size does not fit all, be patient, etc.).
  • Across dimensions. I’m talking about dimensions like these:
    • People
    • Projects
    • Processes
    • Institutions
    • Disciplines

To take the “projects” example and apply the rubric “from the particular to the general,” you might address a particular setback on a work project at three distinct levels:

  1. “How do we fix THIS issue?” There’s a particular task that needs doing, but it’s stuck or broken or out of sync. How do you un-stick it, fix it, get it aligned?
  2. “What does this issue say about where this whole project is going?” Maybe there have been persistent breakdowns in communication or work handoffs between two departments, or between you and your vendor. How can you take the fresh example at hand as a call to reorganize the project — or least to get everyone to realize that coordination has been a problem — so that the whole project runs better?
  3. “What does this tell me about organizing projects in general?” A major project I’m shepherding at work keeps reminding me of the mindset I need to have and the practices I need to follow to keep things moving like they should: remind people gently but persistently about what needs to be delivered by when; create better visibility into progress (and lags) for all parties; when in doubt, over-communicate; and so on.

You get the idea: you take the matter at hand not just as a problem to be solved in the moment — a hangnail, so to speak — but as an opportunity to get better at doing a whole class of things.

Help me expand on this?

Is this approach useful to you? What dimensions or nuances would you add to it?

Photo source.

Commonplace: Rohn.

Monday, August 13th, 2012

“Either you run the day or the day runs you.”

–Jim Rohn

(I was on the wrong side of this one today. Tomorrow will be better.)

Productivity in the wee hours.

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

You know, I didn’t mean to wake up at 2:30. I was thirsty, got myself a drink of water, but then couldn’t go back to sleep because I started thinking about work.

It’s been a hectic week, and my to-do list has been growing even as I’ve been going after it with a machete. I’m definitely trying to take the Toyota manufacturing approach of trying to fix everything two ways: do the task at hand, but also go to the root cause so that you can do it better next time (or just keep it from needing to be done). Come to think of it, it’s the same approach that Hercules took to slay the Hydra: cut off the head, but also cauterize the cut so that nothing can grow back.

Well, it’s amazing what two hours of truly uninterrupted productivity can do for you. By 5 a.m. I had cleared my inbox, followed up with all the key parties on a big project I’ve just taken over, and built a new deck for a sales meeting I’m running later today. (Just-in-time production, as it were.) It feels good.

Now I’m going to take a nap before the alarm goes off.

Shake off those robot pants.

Monday, June 7th, 2010

My buddy Chris Brogan said this on Facebook:

Oh formletters. I do love you. Thanks, “friends” who use form letters. I love you all. (And any time my company’s done it on my behalf, forget me, too.) We’re all putting on robot pants.

To my ear, it echoes a line of thought he just espoused on his blog:

So why jump [from an airplane]?

Because I’m afraid. Afraid enough.

I’m afraid of lots of minor things in life: confrontation, my own faults, not working hard enough, things like that. You know what tackling a big fear is going to do to those small fears?

Either way, it’s about freeing yourself from your mental habits. The robot-pants thing we could file under the headings of “Shake It Up” or “Think for Yourself.” But combined with the skydiving thing, I’d put it under a rubric I call . . .


If you have aversions to drinking yourself into a stupor or cheating on your spouse or running your car off the road, keep those.

But your aversion to taking the necessary risks to build your career? Or to pursue your dreams? Or to make yourself vulnerable to someone you love? Or to admit that you’re wrong? Or to make the phone call you’ve been dreading?

Chuck ’em.

In fact, go out of your way to chuck ’em. Violate your sacred boundaries. Rush to do the thing you know you need to do, before your defenses can kick in . . . and before you’re ready.

“Ready” may never come. So just launch ahead without it.


(Image by GogDog, used under a Creative Commons Noncommercial license.)

This is how the sausage gets made, people.

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

I appeared this morning on the Fox Business webcast to talk about the IPO market, as you can see here.

But I wasn’t wearing pants.


(I was wearing shorts — you just can’t see them here.)

On the imminence of South by Southwest.

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

It’ll be here within 48 hours. I’m not ready.

More to the point for this blog, it remains to be seen if I can survive SXSW, use it for business purposes, and still keep up the pace of posts here. I’m dubious, but we’ll see what happens.

Meanwhile, are YOU going to be at SXSW? If so, won’t you please attend the session I’ll be running? The official SXSW listing is here, and our Facebook event page is here. I’d love to see you there!


Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

By the by, for all the writing I’ve been doing here, I’ve been doing even more over the past nine months at my professional blog — to the tune of 450 posts. I just wrote #450, a somber bit about the death of a prominent entrepreneur. In general, though, I try to keep the tone of that blog light but pointed.

If you’re interested in the business world, or in reading more of my thoughts on themes like excellence and self-management, I invite you to add the Hoover’s Business Insight Zone to your reading diet.

That whole “time actually spent” vs. “espoused priorities” thing always gets me down.

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

In his inimitable (i.e. sometimes irritating, often effective) style, Tom Peters asks a lot of (im)pertinent questions for anybody involved in business any organization:

Have you in the last 30 days examined in detail (hour by hour) your calendar to evaluate the degree “time actually spent” mirrors your “espoused priorities”?

Worth reading.

More on workiness.

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

My initial post on “workiness” the other day drew some good comments, especially offering suggestions on where workiness comes from. Here’s Mark:

I suspect a couple sources for this. Among them, keeping up appearances, misplaced urgency, failure to triage, and reluctance to delegate.

And here’s Dan:

Part of the root cause, I think, is a lack of focus on daily/weekly goals. […]

I think there’s a psychological component as well. Being busy — and more importantly, feeling busy — feeds our sense of being needed. No one likes to find that the organization can survive just fine without him. Workiness helps keep this dark fear at bay.

Amen to all of these reasons, which I sense are interconnected. When you’re afraid to look into the Deep Truths* of your work, you’ll continue to keep yourself distracted and preserve appearances — to yourself and to others — with un-delegated, un-triaged, un-focused workiness. You keep the motor revving high enough to drown out the Little Voice underneath that would tell you that you’re wasting your time, or in other words . . . that you’re wasting your life.

It’s much harder to slow down**, turn down the noise, and figure out what’s really important underneath it all. That means shunning workiness and focusing on the real stuff instead.

Often, we need to do less but do it better — and we especially need to focus on doing the right things, the needful things, to the absolute exclusion of wasted efforts. (This is the root of the “subtraction” posts I made yesterday.) Many of us will be much better served if we work half as much, but make sure that each bit of work builds toward the reality we most want to see.

I’ll have more to say on this subject in particular contexts, but for now . . . Down with workiness!


* Imagine that intoned with a big, deep narrator’s voice.

** Depending on your mindset, substitute “slow the hell down” or even “slow the f*** down” if that will get your own attention better.