Scared of Ideas or Open to Change?

He hears the alarm clock, hits snooze, and lays there for ten minutes somewhere between sleep and awake. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg plays:

He does what I think is one of the hardest things in the world to do, he puts the first foot on the floor in the morning. He goes to the bathroom, runs the shower, and peers into the mirror. Everyday its the same. Same time, same song, same struggle. Everyday.

Routines are good for many aspects of our lives. We need to focus on what is different in our environment and routines keep us safe to do so. But the comfort of a routine can be disabling as well. For instance, there’s a field of study called Terror Management Theory and it describes what people do to repress an awareness of mortality. Here’s an excerpt from HarvardBusinessReview.com called Employees See Death When You Change Their Routines which enumerates three means for warding off these thoughts:

Studies show that we create three existential buffers to protect us from this knowledge: Consistency allows us to see the world as orderly, predictable, familiar, and safe. Standards of justice allow us to establish and enforce a code of what’s good and fair. Culture imbues us with the sense that we have contributed to, and are participating in, a larger and enduring system of beliefs.

As a manager it’s important to know which of your employees are lulled into this perceived safe zone and will need some coaxing when change is on the horizon. They’ll want to hold onto the way things are – they’re good at them, they understand what’s expected, and they are familiar – but it’s counterproductive. You’ll need to invest in re-establishing these buffers for them…

Unless they are risk takers. Many entrepreneurs don’t like routines. They want constant change with a little bit of chaos mixed in. Companies like Google seek them out because they tend to be disruptors and a disruption can be a money maker. Just last week the NY Times ran an article about how Google gave 10% raises across the board. Google’s growth has brought with it the bureaucracy of a big company. Some entrepreneurs are fleeing the company. The reason is because they can’t affect change quick enough. Their supply of patience is sapped.

Both types of worker, the comfort in routine and the risk taker, must answer this question posed by Bob Brennan of Iron Mountain to this employees:

What do you recommend we do?

You can get a real sense for who’s invested in moving the company forward, and who’s watching the company go by, with that very simple question.

Q. Why?

A. People lay out problems all the time. If they’ve thought through what should be done from here, then you’ve got somebody who’s in the game, who wants to move, and you can unlock that potential. Bystander apathy or the power of observation, in and of itself, is not very valuable. There are amazingly eloquent diagnosticians throughout the business world. They can break down a problem and say, “Here’s your problem.” But it’s prescriptions that matter. So how do we move from here, and what specifically do you recommend?

Working Thoughts 11/29/07
It’s Not a Recession but it Sure Feels like It

Working Thoughts 11/29/08
There Are Jobs for Low Level Employees?

Good Time to be a Tech Startup

“This is our decision – to live fast and die young.”

“We’re out looking for astronauts, looking for astronaunts”

These are lyrics from songs I like (Fated to Pretend by MGMT and Looking For Astronauts by The National), but they came to mind as I read an article on Fortune.com this week called The Implications of too Much VC Money and too Little Startup Talent by JS Cournoyer.

Cournoyer highlights the market for technology talent and focuses on the supply and demand curve is currently very much in favor of the worker. Evidence of this is Google giving 10% raises across the board. This was to prevent an ever escalating clash with other tech firms. But another tactic is underway as well – buying start ups for the engineers. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Oracle are flush with cash. They are looking for astronauts.

But here we sit with 9.6% unemployment. And remember we need about 2.5% GDP growth to generate jobs, so to lower the unemployment rate to 8.6% growth would need to be around 5%. Where is the innovation for this to happen?

Investors believe it’s in Startups. Investment is near the levels of 1999, the last gold rush. It’s a smart play really, invest in a potential target of a company like HP – a company with lots of cash – and work them to transfer some of that wealth in the form of a purchase. Knowing what companies fit the portfolio is important. This is our decision, to live fast and die young.

Although web development is always big, I think the next group of experts is in data. The growth of data is estimated to be increasing at a compounding rate of 60%. We won’t be hearing statements like “I need more data.” We’ll hear “Can I trust the data?” When a resource over a 5 year term is 10x more abundant you know money is to be made.

This is our decision
To live fast and die young
We’ve got the vision
Now lets have some fun

Yeah, it’s overwhelming
But what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices
And wake up for the morning commute?

My Experience, Our Story

Every Sunday millions of Americans sit in a hard wooden pew to attend church. Regardless of the denomination the session culminates in a pastor of some kind delivering his sermon. It’s a learning situation emphasizing morals and what is expected of someone within the church community. The message is delivered usually in one of two ways – by describing negative actors who are sinners and thus need forgiveness or by sharing examples where someone demonstrated moral conviction despite dire circumstances.

There are splats on the white wall with the consistency of a slug on a humid night. They’re maroon with some tan mixed in. A few splats are sliding to the floor. Thirty seconds ago I shot a man through the abdomen and I’m about to kill another. It’s fun. Of course this happened in a popular video game; my brain is able to rationalize the fiction of it while tapping the visceral sense of survival. Viva adrenaline! I’ll play for a couple of hours, which will feel like 10 minutes, and occasionally I’ll be the one slumped on the floor, but I’ll try again and again.

We learn through experience, whether it’s our own or someone else’s. We use immediate feedback to correct behavior in the moment in time – the present – the video game. We also use our memory of what happened as a means to anticipate and learn from others – the pastor’s story.

Last week I sat with some friends and watched football. I ate an order of hot wings as I normally do. However, this time they were a little sweet. They didn’t taste bad, but I know the flavor of hot wings and this wasn’t it. So this Sunday I asked the waitress what the story was? She replied that it might be a slightly different recipe because of the cook that was there. I told her I wanted hot wings and not ones that are sweet. As soon as the order came out a part of my brain – the insula – activated and I knew they were sweet. My experience from last week was recorded and I didn’t need to eat the wings to know the taste. I ate them anyway, but I asked for a side of hot sauce.

In management it’s important to use effective story telling to bypass the time commitment of experience. If one person on the team can spend a day in training and then relay their memory of the event on to another 20 then the productivity of the group will improve tremendously.

The difficult part is that people learn in varied ways. I think that’s one of the reasons why Microsoft Powerpoint is so popular: on one slide is a bullet list of the key points, the next is a graph, the third is a picture of a team at a table planning something, and the last is a summary. But now it’s time to steal ideas from marketing and develop campaigns.

Suppose I’m trying to change the culture of a team of 20. I’ll need to have one-on-one meetings with each person to lay it straight; to be direct with what I want. Next I’ll follow that up with a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) document answering questions that collectively each person needs a response too. I’d also possibly do an interview with someone from outside the team who would benefit from the desired changes and publish the account for the group to read. If video or other media friendly resources are available I’d look into those as well. The point is, I’d tell the story in as many formats as I can and then I’d follow it up with reinforcing ideas as much as possible.

I’m not a preacher or a video game. My goal is to tell positive stories and produce experiences that are lasting… for the whole team.

Working Thoughts 11/15/07
Cloud Computing and IBM

Working Thoughts 11/14/08
My Interview with Norm Bogner of 4Refuel

Private Sector Jobs: A Lagging Indicator Showing 10 Months of Improvement

The last Jobs Report was all-in-all a very positive report. The numbers that came in blew away expectations and the revisions for the past two months also significantly improved those figures. Here is a chart showing the last 22 months. We have a long way to go, but growth, slow as it is, is ahead. If I’m the head of HR, I’m gearing up for a competitive 2011 – jobs are a lagging indicator for the economy.

Notes on the chart:

  • Beginning in November of 2009, two years after the recession began, the jobs report starts to smooth out
  • The Government numbers in 2010 are a roller coaster due to the temporary nature of census work (once a decade)
  • Private sector hiring has slowly improved throughout the year (2010)
  • The 2009 figures are historically bad. The normal top and low range for jobs is between a gain of 250,000 and a loss of 250,000.

Working Thoughts 11/10/08
Cultivating a Business Network

Working Thoughts 11/10/09
Unemployment Graphs and Charts – October 2009

October 2010 Jobs Report and Wages

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


Net gain
of 151,000 jobs in the month

  • Census work, which elevated the jobs report in the spring and then weighed it down over the summer is no longer a factor
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 159,000
    • Four straight months of private payroll gains surpassing 100,000. Hasn’t happened since October 2005 – April 2006

  • Analysts expected an overall gain of 60,000
  • August was revised to a loss of 1,000 from an original reading of a loss of 54,000 and a revision of 57,000 last month
  • September was revised to a loss of 41,000 jobs from an original reading of 95,000 lost jobs
  • The revisions for August and September alone add 110,000 jobs to the economy
  • 6.1 million people have been jobless for more than 6 months (long term unemployed) – virtually unchanged from September and August

    • 41.8% of the unemployed are long term unemployed – inched up from 41.7% last month
  • Businesses (private sector) have now added 1.1 million jobs since the start of 2010, after cutting 8.5 million in 2008 and 2009 combined
    • 1% Gain over the last 12 month. The first time this has happened since mid 2007, prior to the recession

  • Government has lost 253,000 jobs

Unemployment rate stayed at 9.6%

  • Analysts predicted it would be 9.6%
  • The employment to population ratio is 58.3% – down from 58.5%
  • The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part time but want to be full time and discouraged worker), decreased slightly to 17.0% from 17.1%. This is still really high
  • PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 56.9% and the 18th consecutive month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the machines are running
    • There are now 0.8% more manufacturing jobs than there were a year ago. Manufacturing has been a slow decline for a decade

  • Productivity, measured for the quarter, showed tepid growth of 1.9%

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing lost 7,000 jobs
  • Construction gained 5,000 jobs
  • Retailers added 27,900 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services lost 5,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 8,000, Federal losses were 1,000
  • Education and Health Services grew by 53,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 34,000

  • Professional and Business Services grew by 46,000
    • 34.900 jobs added in Temporary Help

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $644.11 – an increase of $4.26!
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.17 – an increase of 7 cents
  • Average weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is 33.6 hours

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary

The Next 30 Years: Smaller

An election just passed and the results indicate a very unsatisfied voter. It makes perfect sense. Middle class jobs are scarce and wealth is gravitating only to the uber-rich. We’ve had a thirty year mirage in the standards of living.

Thirty years is a time period I key in on. President Ronald Reagan made thirty year policy decisions and we are at the dawn of a new thirty year window. Besides the politics of it, the transition of leadership throughout companies and communities is just now beginning. Those in their 30s and early 40s are set to grab leadership positions within the next three years.

This is a very positive development.

The values of those ending their leadership position are different from those set to attain it. For instance, the sense of privacy for a 25 year old is nothing like it is for a 60 year old. Sharing on facebook, twitter, and on blogs means you are comfortable with potential embarrassment. There is no hiding skeletons in the closet anymore.

But the main value I see differentiating the two groups is one of scale of competition. The older guard wants to amass competitive advantages and really leverage economies of scale. But the younger guard wants to go smaller. Manufacturing shaped the economics of the 20th century, but a knowledge economy is shaping the present day. Concepts like Design and Branding are ever more important. And perception plays a part in how they are valued. Perception isn’t a Deming TQM or Six Sigma concern.

Bigger versus smaller separates the path. Bigger wants to protect the status quo – scale is expensive. Smaller wants nimbleness but with standards. Think Microsoft with the Office Suite versus Apple’s App Store. Microsoft has a cash cow with Windows and they leverage it to sell Office. People are familiar with it and it works. But how much has it really changed over the last 10 years? Not much, but people keep buying it. Now think about Apple with the App Store. They developed a platform for small developer shops and large ones to compete on an even field. Apple manages the standards and sets up the merchant services. The developers can leverage the scale Apple already built with the platform and sell. Compatibility and interoperability aren’t deal breakers either. This simplifies the cost to compete. Ideas sink or swim based on their merit and marketing.

As we embark on the next thirty years, expect to see a shift in values. It’ll be less of an us and them world and competition will be a loose definition, almost encouraged. Attitudes will change. Smaller is captivating. What do you value?

Working Thoughts 11/4/08
Why Voting Matters

Cartoons: A Subtle Story Telling Mechanism

One of my tenets is the idea of an ever growing amount of data. We have our five senses gathering data for your brain, but technology is acting as an extension almost like a seventh sense. But to understand what our senses are telling us, whether it’s visual, auditory, or touch for example, we use associations. Experiences form many of our associations, be it our own or someone else’s. The “story” becomes a powerful tool for dealing with vasts amount of data. Being someone who can deal with this pervasive data stream, then understand what it means, and finally, relaying it to someone who isn’t involved is a great skillset to have.

One way people do that, is through cartoons or comics. There’s a charm to a boxed story. Dan Pink did a whole book in a style of comic called Manga. I read reviewed Johnny Bunko . Below is an additional take on comics:

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf