To Implement a Change You Need a Leader but You also Need a First Follower

My day-to-day job requires me to be an implementer of change. I get to look at situations from a macro view and devise a program that will improve how things are being done – particularly decision making. I’m not an actor in the change though. I’m more the director. This means I need to sell the value in this new approach. There are numerous ways to do it – through persuasion, through measurements, through peer pressure, and through threats. But the one I prefer is through understanding. The people I’m trying to get to do things differently understand the rational for why I’ve built the program the way I did. It is so gratifying to hear people tell me why what the program is doing is what is needed.

Below is a similar example of leadership. I really like this Derek Sivers video (it is only 3 minutes long), but what I want others to take from it is that if you are trying to do a change initiative, you need to not only find good leaders, but you need to have a first follower to catalyst it past the weird unknown phase that inevitably needs to be overcome.
A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he’s doing is so simple, it’s almost instructional. This is key. You must be easy to follow!

Now comes the first follower with a crucial role: he publicly shows everyone how to follow. Notice the leader embraces him as an equal, so it’s not about the leader anymore – it’s about them, plural. Notice he’s calling to his friends to join in. It takes guts to be a first follower! You stand out and brave ridicule, yourself. Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.

The 2nd follower is a turning point: it’s proof the first has done well. Now it’s not a lone nut, and it’s not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news.

A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see the followers, because new followers emulate followers – not the leader.

Now here come 2 more, then 3 more.  Now we’ve got momentum.  This is the tipping point! Now we’ve got a movement!

As more people jump in, it’s no longer risky. If they were on the fence before, there’s no reason not to join now. They won’t be ridiculed, they won’t stand out, and they will be part of the in-crowd, if they hurry. Over the next minute you’ll see the rest who prefer to be part of the crowd, because eventually they’d be ridiculed for not joining.

And ladies and gentlemen that is how a movement is made!  Let’s recap what we learned:

If you are a version of the shirtless dancing guy, all alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making everything clearly about the movement, not you.

Be public. Be easy to follow!

But the biggest lesson here – did you catch it?

Leadership is over-glorified.

Yes it started with the shirtless guy, and he’ll get all the credit, but you saw what really happened:

It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader.

There is no movement without the first follower.

We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective.

The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow.

When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Winning and a Job Interview

Imagine if you were interviewed for 3 months and your interviewer had tape of your prior job. And you know your name will be in the paper the day after a culminating employee selection process.

If you are an elite college football player, that is what is happening with you right now as the National Football League (NFL) draft starts tonight. I wished this happened with entrepreneurs or scientist, but since I love sports I’m still excited about it.

There’s a guy by the name of Tim Tebow . No one thinks he’s the first player selected, he isn’t even believed to be the first player picked for his position. But he’s the story. Who is going to invest in him? The reason is because he’s a rare athlete who has a terrific work ethic. But his game doesn’t currently sync up with what is typical for the NFL. His talents overwhelmed his competition in college, but the belief is that won’t work in the NFL.

This is a fundamental question about college and careers:

Is your college education supposed to be a form of training? In Tim Tebow’s case, his coaches didn’t prepare him for his next job. His throwing mechanics are awful and his quarterbacking reads are slow. He will have to learn those things on the job. 

Or is college about learning how to think? And this is why Tim Tebow is so interesting. He didn’t learn how to throw the football in a compact fashion, but he did learn what it takes to lead and win. Sometimes, its a run play fighting for two yards and other times its a 15 yard out pattern for a last second touchdown. He learned problem solving in pressure situations. I tend to believe that what he learned will serve him for the rest of his life, including football.

The parallel I see is Doug Flutie . He is a smallish quarterback from Boston College who won big games in college and fought height perceptions in the pros. I’m a Bills fan and towards the end of his career he signed with them. I watched him several times pull games out that looked dire. He just had a knack for making something good happen when the pressure was on.

These are the type of skills that deserve televised events and the celebration that goes with it.

Tim Tebow was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 25th pick in the draft (1st round).

Beyond the Bend

The Places I Go

Today on my way home from work I took a little different way. I needed to pick up some food that is slightly out of my way. The road I was on is a four lane state road where 55 is normal, at least between the lights. It has a somewhat spansive medium of grass and wiry bushes dividing the lanes. I’m familiar with the road and I can picture what is around each bend.

This past weekend I had the opposite experience. I was driving to Cary, NC for a family party. I printed directions and set out on my way. Most of the trip I’ve made many times before, but the last 2 miles were new to me – there were about four turns in that span. But, despite having the directions and practically an exact detail of the distance between the them, my anticipation of the turn made the distances feel so much longer. I’m looking and looking for the left, there is a car behind me, and it feels like forever.

The difference between these situations is my mental image of what was to come.

Youth Work Situations

The NY Times ran a couple of segments that caught my attention recently. They’re somewhat divergent in their take, but similar in topic. One is the weekly interview they run called Corner Office. This week the interviewee was Bill Carter , the founder of and partner in Fuse , a youth marketing agency. The second was an Economix blog entry called Young and Unemployed, Around the World .

The first question for Bill Carter is for him to talk about early leadership lessons. He responds that he played lacrosse for a successful team in Maryland. Winning was expected and ingrained as a culture. As the interview goes on, Mr. Carter explains how his business functions. He wants his youthful employees (25-32 year olds) to be professional from the beginning. No excuses. Confidence is key and if occasional mistakes are made, then they can be corrected. Performance is matter-of-fact and it isn’t necessarily a longest in the office competition. If someone is ready for a big presentation then they are ready. A competitive environment is good to have as long as it isn’t personal.

In Young and Unemployed, the stats show the ratio of unemployment by age against the entire population for several industrialized nations. There are all kinds of potential flaws in this (data collection methods are varying and the population of 16-20 year olds is in such a state of flux between school a real job, and a part time job for example), but it does show the differing approach for getting the youth into the workforce. But the US stats are pretty significant for the long term. Right now it’s just over twice the average unemployment rate (9.7%). And the point of the post is that having a delayed entrance into the workforce has societal side affects. For instance, the experience that is garnered during the first years is obtained a couple of years later and is replaced with idle or tax sapping periods (unemployment benefits, food stamps, or even jail). The income level takes time to recuperate as well and the standard of living could suffer at the aggregate.

And this makes me wonder. Are the recent graduates not skilled for the entry level type of job, are other age groups taking the jobs they would normally have, are the jobs going unfulfilled, or are they gone altogether? Do these type of stats make us change the schooling to “train” people for these responsibilities? Or do we go the other way and acknowledge the positions for what they are – a stepping stone role?

Psychology of Youth

The environment established by Bill Carter is like how I started this post. You can imagine what the road looks like after the bend. You know what is expected and you get into a zone just driving the car. You are performing with an end goal in mind. You stop at the lights and see the bushes on the side, but they don’t prevent progress.

The environment of unemployment for a youth is filled with anxiety. Each turn is anticipated well in advance. And there is no idea what comes after that – even with a map. You can’t imagine success.

Last One in the Pool is a Rotten Egg

I’ve been on the optimistic side of the economic downturn for awhile. I predicted it in October 2007 and said it would end by the start of the third quarter of 2009. I also forecasted a sharp V shape to the unemployment figures (not the unemployment rate, but the monthly job stats). I wasn’t quite right on that one. It wasn’t a U shape, but it isn’t a V either. Either way, the positive news stories are coming out in the media now about the market looking favorable. There are still reports about Main Street not being back yet and the chances of a double dip recession, but those are somewhat the “don’t forget about me” stories that get a good amount of people’s eyes. 

Today I read on a story by Becky Quick called Who Says the Economy is Rebounding? She’s a CNBC Squawk Box host (picture below).

Her take on the situation is to listen to three prominent businessmen: Warren Buffett, Jamie Dimon, and Jack Welch. She gives a mix of anecdotal evidence and statistics to show the economy has turned the corner. I pulled out a few aspects of her writing and added my thoughts.

The first statement she writes that gets me is:

But don’t take my word for it. Take Warren Buffett’s. And Jamie Dimon’s. And Jack Welch’s. All three tell me that in the past four to eight weeks, they’ve seen a real change in their businesses, and that indicates better news for the nation’s economy.

The part that gets me about this statement is the specificity of it – four to eight weeks ago isn’t enough time to get a good feel. My guess is they’ve seen the thaw since at least November of last year and have made their bets. What might be meant by the four to eight weeks comment is that the positive parts of the economy have accelerated. I agree with this.

Next she writes about Warren Buffett buying Burlington Northern at a time when rail traffic was it’s lowest. Now Buffett is using rail traffic as a litmus test about the economy – the more rail cars being used the more goods are being purchased. Here’s what she says and an illustration to support it:

At the start of the recession three years ago, Burlington Northern felt the pain early when retailers stopped ordering goods, automakers stopped shipping cars, and home builders stopped needing so much lumber.The railroad started storing thousands of idle rail cars; now those cars are being called back into service. And that’s an incredibly important sign.

It isn’t a new idea to use certain industries sales as an indicator. I did it with my Peanut Butter and Pasta observation in October of 2007. Another that Quick mentions is Buffett’s Iscar company. They make cutting tools which are used in heavy manufacturing. When their goods are purchased, it usually means the old stuff is worn out.

She writes that Jamie Dimon is seeing credit card write offs return to the more normal rate of 5% to 6% rather than the 9.3% it was not too long ago. Credit cards, being unsecured lending, are a good signal about consumer income. Even when down and out, people will pay their credit card near the top of their bills. Why? Because it’s a revolving loan, so they can keep living another day.

But Quick describes Dimon holding court with his acquaintances:

But his most important indicator may be the anecdotal evidence that a hiring boom is on the horizon. Dimon travels the country constantly for lunches or dinners with business leaders, meeting with groups of 20 to 250 people at a time. They may be people who run small or large  businesses, they may be venture capital investors, they may be clients of the firm’s massive private banking group. But everywhere lately, the reaction is the same. When he asks how many of them are going to be hiring in the next 12 months, a third of the hands in the room go up. That’s from virtually none a year ago. “The strength and resilience of the American economy may surprise people,” Dimon says. “The odds of a potential upturn are stronger than people think.”

In March Manpower Inc released a survey saying about 16% of employers are going to hire. This observation is about double that. However, the March Jobs Report showed 60% of industries hired. That is more aligned to the aggressive number that Dimon is stating.
Another aspect to this is the Fed rate being so low. This means funding of new projects is very cheap to do. For a long time businessmen ignored the opportunity, but now that it’s more apparent that the positive dominoes are falling, people are starting to jump on the cheap capital. A year or two from now, your interest payments will be much higher for the same project.
And one more point on this. I was reading Surowieki over to the New Yorker recently and he was recently talking about the economy and elections. He wrote in Timing the Recovery that elections aren’t won or lost if the numbers are high or low, but rather what direction are they headed. He contends that the economy will have high unemployment even as November rolls around, but the number will be coming down and pay will be improving. It may have been a bad two plus years, but if things are looking up, then those in office tend to stay in office. And finally, the massive stimulus package from 2009 was backloaded into the second quarter and third quarter of 2010. This means the economy should continue to see improvements from federal government investment.

I somewhat agree with another story she shared:

He told Squawk Box recently that customers across the board are flooding back. “People who have jobs are now feeling more secure about keeping them and are therefore spending,” Welch says. “And people who don’t have jobs are becoming more hopeful as they see glimmers of hiring.”

I don’t give that much credit to the hiring situation as much as I do that people feel their personal balance sheets are back in order, or at least as much as they’re going to be. Those with jobs just spent a year paying down debt. They bought TVs, nice furniture, and other items that don’t add value in the long run (hello roomba) and they finally paid the bill for them. Now it’s time to have some fun again. In the long run this is going to leave the US with more leverage than in the past. However, taxes will go up so maybe that won’t be true.

But I love how she closed her writing:

“When fireworks go off now, people are expecting that it’s a nuclear bomb,” Buffett says. It’s a natural reaction, but a dangerous one. That mentality exacted a painful cost for investors who followed their gut and got out of stocks as the Dow fell below 9000, then 8000, then 7000. Since then stocks have rebounded 65% off their lows. And if you were waiting on the sidelines until things looked more stable, then you missed the party.

I like the idea that you can’t wait for the all clear to jump back in, because by then the good part is over. You have to accept some risk to get reward. The Dow being in the 7000s was unreasonably low. Not all business models vanished in 2008. It was a great time to buy and just hang out.

At some point we all think “This is our decision, to live fast and die young.”

Is the Job Market Ready for Good News?

The Jobs Report for March was a positive one. I’ve tended to be overly optimistic about this downturn. I suspected the jobs would plummet, but I thought the rehiring would be swift. It hasn’t. So I’m trying to be cautious with my excitement about the March report. But here are some stats I think are noteworthy. They range from showing a growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor (an evaporating middle class), to job satisfaction numbers, to pointers showing an improved economy.

As Stephen J. Rose points out in his book “Rebound: Why America Will Emerge Stronger From the Financial Crisis,” when income is adjusted for family size, the percentage of prime-age American adults earning between $35,000 and $70,000 declined by 12 points between 1979 and 2007. But that’s largely because the percentage earning more than $105,000 increased by 14 points. Over the last 10 years, 60 percent of Americans made more than $100,000 in at least one of those years, and 40 percent had incomes that high for at least three.

2006 median household earned $48,201
1999 median household earned $49,244

Those with an income level between $12,500 and $20,000 have unemployment numbers of19.1% and 17.2% respectively. The point of the paper is to show that as income levels increase unemployment and underemployment levels drop to practically full employment levels (those with an income of $150,000 or more have numbers of 3.2% and 1.6%)–no-one-thought-it-was.aspx

Here’s my fun fact for the day, provided courtesy of Robert Litan, who directs research at the Kauffman Foundation, which specializes in promoting innovation in America: “Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs created in the U.S. were created by firms that were 5 years old or less,” said Litan. “That is about 40 million jobs. That means the established firms created no new net jobs during that period.” “Roughly 25 percent of successful high-tech start-ups over the last decade were founded or co-founded by immigrants,” said Litan. Think Sergey Brin, the Russian-born co-founder of Google, or Vinod Khosla, the India-born co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

The “quits rate,” or frequency of people leaving jobs, is close to the lowest point since 2000, when the Labor Department began tracking the data. And workers’ willingness to quit without having another job lined up is well below the historic norms going back to the 1960s, according to a separate government reading.

An American Express survey found 54% of the general population willing to make significant concessions in the name of job security, including accepting pay cuts or even demotion.

Employment consultant Towers Watson found 86% of workers value job security and stability, topping the number of people who listed improved pay or career advancement as important to them. And while 43% of workers believe they have to leave their current employer in order to advance their career, only 12% of workers say they are looking to leave their current jobs.


    * 57% of workers didn’t get a raise last year
          o it was 35% in 2008
    * Those that did get a raise, 28% got an increase of 3% or less
    * 71% of workers didn’t get a bonus

Switching Industries:

    * 20% of workers plan to switch careers/fields in the next two years. The reasons:
          o 67% say they are seeking more interesting work
          o 54% say they want higher pay
          o 41% say they want career advancement
          o 36% say they want stability

    * Almost 25% say they don’t expect to be at their current job within a year
    * 45% of Americans say they are satisfied with their job
          o It was 61% in 1987 and it isn’t a cyclical occurrence

PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, rose 3.1 points to 59.6. Anything above 50% means the machines are running. This is the highest it’s been since 2004

Worried about losing workers, 83% of large employers plan to give merit increases this year, up from 52% in 2009, says HR consulting firm Hewitt Associates.

The household survey, from which the unemployment rate is calculated, showed a gain during the first quarter of this year of 1.1 million jobs, the best performance since the spring of 2005.

Creative Expressions – 3D Sidewalk Chalk

I’m late on this one, but impressed all the same. I have a couple of young children who play with sidewalk chalk and when they draw smiley faces I consider it good.

Two guys from Europe are best known for this work – U.K. artist Julian Beever and German artist Edgar Mueller.

Marrying “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” & “You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure”

I’ll be the first to admit that I have limited mental abilities. I can only take in and comprehend so much at a time. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.

The business community about 25 years ago started to change how it operates. A similar saying arose: you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Programs like Six Sigma and other statistical methodologies evolved to handle the numbers associated with tracking current states and the subsequent change.

So now pops a guy by the name of Jesse Schell. He is a CEO of a company called Schell Games. He is also a professor at Carnegie Mellon. He aims to marry the two cliches I mentioned before: “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” and “You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure.” To do this you have to imagine a world where you constantly interact with your environment. This is the measure part. He talks about disposable technology that tracks what is happening. If you brush your teeth for 2 minutes, it is recorded. If you eat chips and not a banana, it’s known. Now be creative and consider a game or games where your behavior is scored, not as good or bad, but as it is. If the game is fun, you’ll change your behavior to accomplish some sort of goal. This is the “… Out of Mind” and “… Manage…” part of the sayings.

Of course, this begs the statement – I don’t care about the length of time I brushed my teeth. Schell is confident his games will make me care. But I can’t help but to revert to my original position on this – I have limited mental abilities 🙂

March 2010 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for March 2010 (based on the job report):

Net gain
of 162,000 jobs in the month (final revision shows a gain of 208,000)

  • Only the third gain since the recession started in December of 2007
  • Analysts expected a gain of 190,000
    • The report is below the predicted number but the revisions for January and February were better than expected so the numbers somewhat evened out

  • One year ago the US lost 753,000 jobs
  • February was revised to a loss of 14,000 jobs from an original reading of 36,000 lost jobs
  • January was revised to a loss of 26,000 from an original reading of a loss of 20,000 (revised again to a gain of 14,000 jobs)
  • 6.5 million people have been jobless for more than 6 months (long term unemployed)
    • This number rose by 400,000 in the month
    • 44.1% of the unemployed are long term unemployed
    • 8.2 million jobs since the start of 2008

  • Temporary work, which usually precedes full time employment gains, added 40,000 jobs in March. This is after adding 48,000 in February, 51,000 in January, and 46,500 jobs in December
  • 48,000 jobs were part of the Census work conducted by the Federal government and are temporary hires
  • 60% of industries added jobs

Unemployment rate held at 9.7%

  • Analysts predicted it would be 9.7%
    • As employment picks up, the labor pool will grow again and the unemployment rate should go up or hold steady

  • The unemployment population edged up 58.6% – meaning people are getting themselves back into the overall count for the unemployment rate
  • The U-6 report, which is a broader group, increased to 16.9%
  • PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, rose 3.1 points to 59.6. Anything above 50% means the machines are running. This is the highest it’s been since 2004

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing added 17,000 jobs
  • Construction added 15,000 jobs
    • The first growth in this industry since June 2007

  • Retailers gained 14,900 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services grew by 22,000 jobs
  • Government sector gained 39,000, Federal gains were 48,000
  • Education and Health Services grew by 45,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 36,700

  • Professional and Business Services grew by 11,000
    • Temporary work added 40,200 jobs in Feb

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $629.37, from $626.25
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $18.90 – down 2 cents
    • No real movement here in 3 months

  • The average hourly work week rose to 33.3, an increase from 33.1

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary