Inc Small Business
Assumptions and biases get in the way of making better business decisions. Learn to root them out with these tips.
Decision making is critical in a business, and entrepreneurs often pride themselves on decisiveness. But as Chip Heath, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and McKinsey consultant Olivier Sibony discussed recently in McKinsey Quarterly, decision making in businesses is often poor because of both personal and systemic problems.
For a smarter and more effective business, consider these four points from the discussion.
1. Bias is everywhere, including in you.
Trying to account for bias is vitally important when you make decisions. Otherwise, you could choose a solution to a problem or pick a strategic decision that won't provide what you need. But getting bias out of the process is not just next to impossible--it's completely impossible. Being aware of your own biases doesn't mean you will be free of them. You need a system that will help prevent your proclivities from taking control.
No one likes to think of being biased because it has such negative connotations. Instead, look at "predictable mistakes" that people make when planning, as Sibony said. "Instead, we observe that people typically make predictable mistakes in their planning process--for instance, getting anchored on last year's numbers." That is bias, but the language provides another way of addressing it. Not only does it have a lower negative connotation, but it is more pointed and practical.
2. You're not as smart as you think.
Perhaps the biggest problem with decision making is the perception businesspeople have that they are and should be the sole decision makers. But, as Heath notes, it wasn't an individual that got people to the moon. It was all of NASA. That insight works at an ordinary operational level of a company, using such tools as continuous improvement and statistical quality control.
Unfortunately, such techniques are rarely extended to the top of an organization because, the higher you go, the tougher a time people have admitting fallibility. People increasingly get rewarded for being confident and decisive, "even if sometimes it's really overconfidence," Sibony says. There should be recognition of how many people really should be involved and the need for mechanisms to deliver smarter decisions.
3. There is safety in numbers.
Making decisions assumes that you have choices from which you pick what you think will be best. But according to Ohio State University professor Paul Nutt, 70 percent of the time that leadership teams consider important strategic decisions, they consider only one option. That is equivalent to the team assuming that it is always right.
According to Heath, one study at a mid-sized high tech company showed that a group of leaders thought decisions were six times more effective when they considered two alternatives instead of one. Instead of asking a group for its decision, request the two top choices.
4. Small changes can be big.
You can improve the decision process with relatively small changes. For example, few decisions are truly unique. Chances are that a decision today will be like one in the past. Look at ones you've made before and identify lessons that could apply today.
Consider alternatives and prepare to be wrong--really wrong, not just slightly. And create an atmosphere in which people can disagree and bring up important points that might otherwise be glossed over. If everyone in a group agrees with a recommendation, they may be simply going along and not bringing up legitimate issues they may see.
You can't guarantee good decisions every time. But address bias, understand your own fallibility, consider multiple options, learn from the past, and prepare to be wrong, and chances are that on the whole your company's decision making will improve.
Feeling overwhelmed at work? Try adding some of these stress-busting foods to your diet.
Most people struggle with balancing life demands with work commitments. But for entrepreneurs, finding balance can seem near impossible. The pressure of getting everything done can be overwhelming. And, if left unchecked, that stress can lead to other issues, including high blood pressure and depression.
Worst of all, stress leads people make poor food choices. When you self-medicate with junk food, it can actually amplify anxiety and do more damage to your health. But there are a few healthy foods that actually help offset stress. Include these in your regular diet, and you'll feel more grounded and more productive. You might even lose a few pounds in the process.
1. Turkey. Turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that boosts serotonin production, which helps alleviate stress. Add turkey to your morning omelet or slice it up into a salad at lunch.
2. Spinach. This leafy vegetable is great source of magnesium, a mineral that helps promote a sense of calm. Spinach, which is a great source of fiber, also helps boost your energy levels. Opt for this instead of lettuce in your salad at lunch.
3. Salmon. This fish is full of Omega 3 essential fatty acids, which help to boost serotonin production. The DHA (docosahexanoic acid) in Omega 3 fats help to nourish the brain while mitigating stress hormones. Plus, the Omega 3 in salmon can reduce inflammation and promote healthy blood flow, both of which are compromised with chronic stress. Enjoy wild Alaskan salmon up to three times a week.
4. Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are a rich source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids, which help reduce stress. Walnuts are one of the best sources of Omega 3s. Cashews and sunflower seeds also contain tryptophan, which boosts serotonin production and can take the edge off a stressful day. Have a handful of nuts as an afternoon snack.
5. Oatmeal. The complex carbohydrates in oatmeal help to boost serotonin production. Plus, oats have a lot of calming magnesium as well as potassium, which has been shown to help lower blood pressure. Have a bowl for breakfast with some walnuts and cashews, as well as some cinnamon to help stabilize your blood sugar, and you will on your way to a more tranquil day.
6. Citrus fruit. Oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits are a great way to get your vitamin C, which studies show reduces stress levels. Plus, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that boosts your immune system. Have an orange in the afternoon for a calming and nourishing snack.
7. Sweet potatoes and carrots. Root vegetables are a good source of fiber and carbohydrates, which can help to boost serotonin production. Plus, because they are subtly sweet, they can offset cravings for sugar. Sweet potatoes and carrots are also a great source of vitamins and minerals that are good for your blood pressure and your heart. Have a handful of baby carrots with some almond butter in the afternoon or a sweet potato with dinner a couple of times a week.
Image-editing app PicsArt got to 60 million downloads by letting user input determine what its features should be.
What's the best way to make sure customers will choose your product? Ask them what they want, and then give them exactly that. That strategy is how PicsArt, a photo editing and drawing app, grew to more than 60 million downloads since it launched in the Google and Apple app stores in late 2011. The app that was introduced back then is very different from PicsArt today, in large part because of suggestions and requests by the app's users.
PicsArt has more than 700,000 reviews on Google Play, with an impressive average rating of 4.7 stars. Here's how the company built its app into a product users love:
1. Ask for input.
"From the very beginning, users were writing us emails with suggestions, new approaches, and bug reports," recalls Artavazd Mehrabyan, PicsArt founder. "That's when we started to focus on asking them things."
PicsArt began emailing questionnaires to its most active users, and also posting surveys on its Facebook page and it continues surveying users on a regular basis. That's helped PicsArt get detailed information on what users would like to see and effectively crowdsource its product design.
2. Monitor conversations and reviews--and actual customer activity.
In addition to asking customers for their input, PicsArt staff are careful to monitor user reviews, social media mentions and comments about the app, and all the suggestions, comments, and complaints that come in by email. Mehrabyan considers this so important that the company has a dedicated support staff of three whose full-time job is to read and answer customer emails, which can include support questions, technical questions, suggestions for new features, complaints, or praise.
In addition to all this, PicsArt collects detailed data on how customers actually use the app, which feature they use frequently, and which they use infrequently, and what they do with those features. "PicsArt is all about enhancing your photography and drawing, so we watch how people are using it and whether a new feature is helping them," Mehrabyan says.
3. Act on what you find out.
This is where too many companies fail in this process. They gather detailed user input and analyze it carefully--but then they don't actually make any changes in response to what they've learned. PicsArt incorporates user-suggested changes often--because the company isn't afraid of frequent updates.
"We never wait till we understand deeply whether something is going to work or not," Mehrabyan says. You never know whether it will be successful or not, he says, so give the users the benefit of the doubt, and just try it. "We add features fast and we react fast. If they don't like something, we change it. If they like it, we polish it and make it even better."
One example is PicsArt's social network. When Mehrabyan started the company, he envisioned an image-enhancing app that people could use to transform their photos and drawings that they might then share over existing social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. In fact, PicsArt supports 10 existing social networks. Mehrabyan never intended to create yet another, but PicsArt users had a different idea.
"People asked for a place to upload their pictures, so we gave it to them," he says. "Then they wanted to be able to follow their friends or favorite other users, so we added 'following.'" Next, users wanted to be able to like the pictures they preferred, so PicsArt added this feature as well. Today, PicsArt has a thriving social network with 6 million members, only because its customers wanted one.
"Modern users are very smart and very challenging," Mehrabyan says. "But if you prove you'll be quick to change or improve something according to their wishes, they will keep loyal to you."
These ten simple truths about life and business were extracted from years of working with people and ideas.
The other day my eight year old son asked me: "What did you learn at work today?" He was, of course, mimicking my daily question about what he learned at school. Even so, his question got me thinking: "What HAVE I learned at work?" Not just today, but every day.
So I sat back and thought about it for a while and I came up with this list, which encapsulates the most valuable things I've learned over the years working with everybody from programmers to salespeople to top executives:1. You can do anything, but you can't do everything.
Life has an infinite number of possibilities and your ability to achieve success is limited only by your imagination. However, there are always trade-offs and sometimes moving in one direction prevents you from moving in another.2. You can't argue somebody out of a belief.
Most people think their beliefs result from objective fact. Actually, people organize and interpret facts according to their beliefs. Therefore, the more facts that you marshal for your argument, the less the other person is likely to change beliefs.3. Pressure creates resistance.
The natural human reaction to being pushed is to push back. This is why the "hard sell" doesn't work today and, indeed, has never worked. It's also why heavy-handed management techniques always fail.4. All you can change are your thoughts and actions.
Most of the misery and disappointment in life and in business emerges from the fruitless quest to 1) make other people change and 2) change the course of outside events. All you truly control is how you think, what you say, and what you do.5. You never know what other people are thinking.
Everyone in the world has three faces. The first they present to the world at large, the second they share with their friends and family, and the third they keep completely to themselves.6. You live up (or down) to your expectations.
I once met a guy who was dead broke, on drugs, overweight, often drunk and who had drifted in and out of jail and bad relationships. On his right shoulder was a tattoo he'd gotten when he was 16. It read "Born Loser."7. The "good old days" weren't all that good.
Many people wish they'd been born in a simpler time, like the 1950s, the Victorian period, or the middle ages. What utter foolishness! By any reasonable measure, we live in the best, the healthiest, and the happiest time in all history.8. Great product ideas are a dime a dozen.
There are millions of great ideas floating around that, if implemented, could make somebody millions of dollars. But it's never the ideas that matter. It's the ability to implement one idea and make it something real.9. Nobody has a monopoly on truth.
Politicians, priests, prophets, and pundits all claim that they (and they alone) know the truth. While they may be sincere, they are human beings and therefore their "truth" is a product of a fallible human mind, and therefore incomplete.10. All you need is love.
The Beatles may have been seriously pot-addled in the 1960s, but they definitely got this one right. When it comes down to it, it's your ability to feel and express love that will bring you both the greatest happiness and success.
Readers: Speaking of love, I'd love to hear what some of you have learned at work. Leave a comment!
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You don't ask for resumes and you skip the traditional job posting. One founder says this four-step process trumps everything else she's tried.
Hiring the right talent is vital to the success of your business. But busy entrepreneurs don't have time to waste sifting through dozens of resumes to evaluate candidates.
"But at the same time you can't--or shouldn't--outsource the entire process," says J.T. O'Donnell, founder and CEO of Careerealism.com, a job search advice site, and CareerHMO, a career coaching membership site.
"I stopped asking for resumes a long time ago," she says. "Years in the staffing industry taught me they weren't useful when evaluating candidates. I also stopped creating 'traditional' job postings altogether since they only resulted in a tidal wave of applicants to wade through, the majority of whom were unqualified for the role."
Here's the approach she takes to streamline the process and still ensure she finds and hires great employees:
Step 1: Don't post a job; post the problem the employee will solve.
Write out what problem this new hire is going to solve. Be rich in details. Explain what pain they will alleviate and how you see them accomplishing that as quickly as possible in the role.
Next, explain why your company exists. Again, be rich in details. What problem does your company solve? What pain does it alleviate for its customers?
Finally, tie in how the right candidate will support those efforts.
Step 2: Ask candidates to answer three key behavioral questions.
Ask candidates to share as much as they can about the following:
- What do you know about our business and industry?
- How did you come to learn that what we do is important to our clients?
- What is your favorite aspect of our business, and why?
Step 3: Ask for their LinkedIn profile, Twitter name, and any other online presence that supports their candidacy.
Make it very clear you do not want a resume or any other materials submitted beyond answering your three questions and providing social profile links.
Step 4: Provide an alias email address and have applications sent directly to you.
Set a deadline of 10 business days for applications to be submitted. Then share the posting via all your social channels and sit back and wait for the right applicants to come in.
Why does this approach work?
Give it a try. You'll increase the quality of the applications you receive while decreasing the quantity, letting you work smarter, not harder, on your hiring process.
New York has unveiled legislation meant to regulate the 3D printing of guns. Here's why it's not going to do anything.
This week Brooklyn democrats introduced legislation that would make it illegal for any New Yorker who's not a registered gunsmith to make a 3D-printed gun.
"If left unregulated, these would be weapons without histories--potentially no identifying marks or sales histories," City Councilman Lew Fidler told the New York Daily News. "We wouldn't even know these weapons exist, until they were fired."
We've debated the ethics of 3D-printing guns before, so this isn't really a new subject, especially for the "maker" community, which has generally addressed the gun-printing issue by distancing itself as much as possible from the hardcore, gun-printing evangelists like DEFCAD. Makerbot, for instance, which makes one of the more popular 3D printers, removed all gun designs listed on its site late last year.
But do we really need to create legislation for this? The idea of lunatics printing AK-47's in their basement is terrifying, sure, but to my mind it's pretty divorced from reality.
First, consider that to make a "Liberator" pistol, one of the more popular gun designs, you'd first need to invest between $1,500 and $8,000 in a 3D printer. Then, you'd have to make sure the plastic thing doesn't fall apart. And lastly, you'd need to figure out a way for the gun to shoot more than one bullet--because the current design only allows for one shot.
Speculative media articles like "3D printing could make anyone a gun maker" make it sound like we're on the brink of some 3D-printed gun revolution, where anyone could instantaneously just print out a gun capable of mass destruction. That's just not true. 3D-printing guns is basically a non-issue at this point--even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives doesn't really care about it. Plus, let's not forget the fact that it's not totally illegal (and still pretty popular) to make zip guns and pipe guns, which have existed since the 1950s.
Even cops are skeptical that legislation like this could curb any sort of real, menacing threat.
"I don't think it's going to be that big of a problem, people making their own guns," one former detective told The Epoch Times. "Why would you use a cheap gun when you can get a regular one on a black market?"
Long load times, blank screens, and customer headaches are a recipe for demotion in Google's search rankings, warn two engineers. Here's how to fix it.
Small business owners, beware: If your site isn't mobile friendly or creates a headache for smartphone users, Google will punish you.
Yoshikiyo Kato, a software engineer, and Pierre Far, a Webmaster Trends Analyst, announced Tuesday Google will start demoting websites who don't fix their problems. Google also made a jab at Adobe Flash, reminding site developers that neither iPhone nor Android--with version 4.1 or higher--host its content. Matt Cutts, head of search spam, said Google is in the process of readying a speed ranking factor for mobile.
Fortunately, Google pointed out two areas where you might be going wrong: faulty redirects--i.e., when a page redirects users to the same mobile site--and mobile-only errors, which are often blank screens.
The hope is to make the mobile web a better place, which is what Google wanted all along.
These days, mobile is where every company wants to be, with users accounting for one-fifth of all web traffic. In fact, a Google-Nielsen study found 73 percent of mobile searches "trigger follow-up actions, whether it be further research, a store visit, a phone call, a purchase or word-of-mouth sharing."
Because 45 percent of all mobile searches are goal-oriented, having an efficient website encourages users to explore, which could result in a sale or registration.
Will you update your mobile site this weekend? Let us know in the comments.
Interns at Google receive eye-popping salaries, but some tech start-ups offer much more. Check out some of their awesome perks.
A glittering resume no longer cuts it. If you want a job, or even a graduate degree, you've got to put in time as an intern.
Some internships evolve into full-time positions. Others offer little beyond busywork. But in tech land (a.k.a. Silicon Valley and New York City) some start-ups are Wonderlands, where interns can get real responsibilities and cool perks.
We've rounded up the best perks out there for interns working in tech today:
Fresh faces--i.e., Nooglers--get a real taste of the Silicon Valley experience, as depicted in the movie The Internship. Software engineers receive a hefty $6,763 salary, plus access to microkitchens, cafes, and gyms. They also work on real production code and get to meet with possible mentors.
Microsoft's interns have flexible schedules, and like Nooglers, they too have access to gyms and cafes, and solid compensation ($6,004 per month).
Interns working at the question and answer site are basically treated like real engineers. They get to attend panels, design APIs, and work on homepage feeds.
An internship at Twitter offers catered meals (for those in San Francisco), dry cleaning, and weekly in-office yoga and pilates classes. One intern got to meet Russian president Dmitry Medvedev when he was still in office and Kanye West.
Interns enjoy weekly events ranging from bowling to movies, Q&A sessions with 10gen's CEO, and events with Union Square Ventures' portfolio companies. Interns also get to meet bigwigs like software engineer Joel Spolsky.
These interns feast on chef-crafted meals, play in media rooms, and go outside for a pickup game of Frisbee. Inside, they have access to a small gym offering yoga classes, a chiropractor, a doctor, and ... massages. Evenings feature weekly wine and cheese tastings.
Chances are someone will uncover the skeleton in your closet--even if it's tiny and insignificant. Take a page from America's new No. 2 spy on how to deal.
President Obama broke a barrier at the CIA recently by appointing the first woman, White House lawyer Avril D. Haines, to be the agency's deputy director. Search for Haines in Google, however, and news of her appointment competes with what Washington really seems to think is most important:
From The Daily Beast:
Two decades ago, when she was in her 20s, Haines occasionally hosted erotica readings at an indie bookstore she owned in Baltimore.
And The Washington Post:
It's a quirkier resume than you generally find among Beltway super-achievers of her generation, who often went straight from college to Capitol Hill or Wall Street or Harvard Law. Haines, 43, instead had a stint as an urban entrepreneur, running Adrian's Book Café ... [T]here were the times that Adrian's welcomed patrons for the occasional readings of high-toned erotica ...
That's it; that's what passes for scandal these days and rises to the top of Google results--reading from books like the bestselling 50 Shades of Grey, in public.
Nobody suggests the news should have any bearing on whether Obama should have picked her for the CIA job, but that doesn't matter. We live in a world now where gotcha politics, social media, and an Internet that never forgets, combine to mean that just about anything any of us ever does can come back to haunt us. That's true whether your aspirations are in politics or business.
Undeniably, sexism plays a role in the sexy stories about Haines's bookish past. Sex and tawdriness sell and lead to clicks, of course. (Exhibit A: the suggested features on the Daily Beast article page include -- and I could not make this up--Bea Arthur's Boobs--and What It Says About Art on Facebook.)
Regardless, I think there are good lessons to be learned--not just for government officials but for anyone who aspires to positions of leadership.
Nearly everyone has something in his or her past that they wish wasn't there, at least that others can twist into something at least quasi-controversial. So, taking a play from Haines's book, here's how to handle it:
1. Think Before Acting.
Back in 1995, Haines clearly wrestled with the question of whether to host these kinds of readings at her bookstore. She wanted to balance what her customers seemed to want with what it meant for her store and her reputation. She said at the time that she had originally "balked" at hosting the readings back in 1995, but relented after thinking it through.
2. Revel in Your Decisions
Haines hasn't made any public comment on the whole erotica-reading-tempest, but it's worth noting that once she made the decision to hold the readings back in the 1990s, she embraced the choice. She not only advertised it--she invited a reporter from The Baltimore Sun to interview her and write about them. There's something disarming when a person takes tempered pride, even as critics snicker and snipe.
3. Grow Thick Skin
Haines is young by Washington standards, and her appointment marks a meteoritic rise. I would never be so naive as to think that jealously doesn't play a role in what stories make their way into print. The only way to deal with that kind of ankle-biting is to learn not to care.
Besides, it's lonely at the top. If you really want a friend in Washington, get a dog.
(Like this post? Check out Bill's weekly email.)
Whether you think his comments were sexist or not, his Holiness Tenzin Gyatso says the next Dalai Lama could be female. Here's why he thinks the fairer sex was born to lead.
The Dalai Lama wants women to lead the world so much, he thinks his successor could even be female.
"If the circumstances are such that a female Dalai Lama is more useful, then automatically a female Dalai Lama will come," he said in a recent press conference held in Australia.
The suggestion, which His Holiness has made previously, followed his reference to the gender debate that is taking Australia by storm. Prime minister Julia Gillard recently accused the Liberal Party of being "grossly sexist and offensive" after she attended a fundraising dinner in which her body parts were listed as dinner items on the menu.
In the Dalai Lama's mind, a world that is suffering a "moral crisis" of inequality needs those who can truly empathize with a person in need and offer meaningful ways to help.
"In that respect, biologically, females have more potential," he said. "Females have more sensitivity about others' well-being. In my own case, my father, very short temper. On a few occasions I also got some beatings. But my mother was so wonderfully compassionate."
Whether you agree with the statement or not, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso is certainly onto something. As we've written before, many character traits traditionally associated with women tend to be very effective at work.
Among them are humility--seeking to serve others and sharing credit--vulnerability--owning up to one's limitations and asking for help--and (you guessed it), empathy--being sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.
The nine Internet companies implicated in the PRISM leak aren't the only companies handing over customer data. Apparently, thousands of companies do this. Would you?
Yesterday, I wrote about the shady role of a few start-ups in the government's bid to gather more and more intelligence about people and businesses around the globe. It appears I underestimated just how many companies are involved.
Bloomberg's Michael Riley reports this morning:
Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said.
It's unclear what, exactly, "classifed intelligence" means here, or what type of data these companies are providing to the national security agencies. But Riley's main point is that it's not just the "Big 9" colluding with the NSA--the government's reach among private enterprise is far deeper. And it may involve many of the companies average consumers transact with on a daily basis.
Which, of course, brings up some important questions--both ethical and strategic--for business owners. If faced with a decision to work with the NSA, or some subsidiary security agency operating under the NSA's claws, what would you do?
The lure of access to "classified intelligence" might sway you to comply, or perhaps even a prospect of helping protect the U.S. against threats--and offering information about customers' online activities might seem harmless at first. But what if you're "caught"?
Since Google was implicated in last week's NSA scandal, people began looking for search alternatives. VentureBeat reports that DuckDuckGo, a search engine that says it does not track its users' searches, saw its biggest boost in traffic ever this week.
"I believe the surveillance story is paramount right now, and people are talking about it," the site's founder told VentureBeat. "DuckDuckGo users are telling their friends and family about the private alternatives."
In other words: customers are willing to shift their usage patterns if they feel their privacy is at stake.
If Riley is right, and businesses do indeed "receive benefits" from the government in exchange for pawning off information about their customers, this may be the time for those businesses to reconsider whether this transaction is worth the potential PR nightmare and loss of trust if the relationship is ever exposed.
Of course, it's also an opportunity. Plenty of business owners routinely work with security agencies--like the Enhanced Cybersecurity Services in the Department of Homeland Security, for instance--when the government needs special assistance in tracking down people suspected of terrorist activities. And perhaps they should.
The point is that businesses need to be more transparent and come clean with customers about how their data is used--and who it's getting handed off to.
If you can't communicate clearly, you can't do business.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a group of entrepreneurs that I am not a fan of Jim Collins. There are many reasons, but one of them is that I dislike when he presents his work as though it is science. Business is not a science; it is not susceptible to experiments that can be controlled and replicated. Everything in business is too unpredictable for that--every business, employee, product, market is different and keeps changing. And there's no such thing as "pure" business the way there is "pure" physics. So when Collins talks about his "lab," an alarm goes off in my mind.
"But it's just words," one business owner insisted.
No, it is not just words. Words are how people think. When you misuse words, you diminish your ability to think clearly and truthfully. As words lose their meaning through misuse, I have fewer tools with which to imagine and then communicate my ideas. What that means is that words are, perhaps, the most fundamental part of a business because without them you can't connect to other people--and can't do a thing.
At TEDGlobal this week, Julian Treasure talked about how to make yourself heard. Treasure works with sounds as his profession; he consults companies on the acoustics of their offices and their stores. He is a professional listener. So he values words a great deal.
"What am I going to say," he asked his TEDGlobal audience in Edinburgh, Scotland, "the next time I encounter something that fills me with awe? Awesome? It doesn't mean anything any more. It's so overused and misused that it won't do for me what I need it to do."
It may seem peculiar to write a post about language. Isn't that the province of English professors? But all business involves communication.
When you use words loosely, without care and consideration, you erode trust in yourself and in what you're saying. When you squander words, you diminish your power.
Preventing cyberattacks might be as simple as keeping an eye on the C-suite.
The biggest threat to your company's cyber security aren't foreign hackers or devious geeks holed up in their apartments.
It's your CEO, writes Rohyt Belani, CEO of PhishMe, a Virginia-based security company, in The Harvard Business Review.
For one thing, their high-profile positions make it easy for hackers to dig up a lot of information about their activities and interests, and that data can be used to craft fake messages.
For another, they're always hurrying through their inboxes; if they see a message that contains an emotional trigger, such as 'Company XYZ is filing a lawsuit against your company. Please find attached the details,' they'll click.
CEOs also tend exclude themselves from regular security training that is mandatory for employees lower on the totem pole, he adds. So they may have a poor understanding of threats.
But that doesn't mean you can't help them to learn.
"One technique that works is telling executives that you want them to see what the rank-and-file are going to experience in the training," says Belani. "Show them what happens when they click on a link in a phishing email, and then discuss the consequences."
Such training can lower their risk of being exposed to an attack greatly, says Belani. The key is to get them caught up as soon as they come on board with your company and keep them up to date throughout their time there.
"Make sure your message is perceived as relevant to the audience, and reinforce positive behaviors," he suggests. "Use case studies and anecdotes to tell about break-ins and discuss what could have been done to prevent them. And, of course, measure the outcomes."
In honor of Father's Day, Attack Marketing co-founder Andrew Loos shares the three most enduring pieces of business advice he ever got. And they're not from VIPs or CEOs. They're from his dad.
Advice is easily given these days. And it comes in many forms: quips, metaphors, one-liners, even catchy rhymes.
As co-founder and managing partner of Attack, I've helped build one of the premier experiential marketing agencies in the country. Along the way, we have made mistakes, burnt a few bridges, and lost a few clients, but we've used these experiences--along with some good advice--as learning lessons instead of failures.
For me, the best advice is not that hot tip of the minute that only applies to one specific situation. Instead, I tend to embrace the big-picture advice that can cross over to life and business. And while my success has given me the opportunity to meet some of the most inspiring people in the world, when it really comes down to it, I still apply the universal advice my dad gave me through the years (and still does today). So, in honor of Father's Day, here are three simple teachings he gave me that have helped me get through more than a few challenges:
1. You get out of something exactly what you put into it.
My dad was the first person to share his version of "you get what you give." This is one of those sayings that at first almost seems too simple to have any real-life application. But, apply it to every move in your pursuit to build success, and it begins to take on its real meaning: "Work harder than everyone else and you will improve." My dad would embed this advice within almost any lesson, from the casual pre-emptive strike (say, little league practice) or hammer-dropping outcomes (sub-par report cards in high school, client failings, etc.).
2. Don't let it get personal.
When work is a passion it's difficult to not take it personally. My dad practiced law for 40 years, and while some might argue that lawyers are anything but personal, he started with this phrase almost every time I called him seeking advice on a "challenging" client or colleague. He reminded me often that burned bridges were not just broken relationships, but lost opportunities.
If you've ever owned a business (or been in a relationship) for two or more years, then you've probably been faced with this truth already. There are challenges to adjusting to a new environment, work system, technology, or people at your company. In the early years of Attack's growth, I tried to adapt to the highs (our first million-dollar year) and the lows (how-are-we-going-to-make-payroll?). Sometimes I wasn't successful at adapting, but I had to make adaptable attempts if I wanted to be a successful entrepreneur.
My father considered the most successful people to be the ones who would or could adapt to change within their organizations. He emphasized that such change never came easy. I now hire people who are open to change because I consider adaptability a mandatory characteristic to survive the journey. I've learned to welcome change and not fear it as we make strategic decisions. Plus, my wife and I have a toddler now, so we adapt to something new every single day.
Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to apply the last simple piece of advice, which is to say "thanks" and give credit where credit is due. Thanks, Dad, for the mentorship and guidance you've always given me. Some of these things you must have told me a thousand times growing up. I use them every day, and I also share them every day.
As I celebrate my younger daughter's graduation from kindergarten, I can't help but recognize how she's made me a better boss.
I'm an entrepreneur, CEO, leader, teacher, and writer. But most importantly, I'm a husband and father to two amazing daughters, Charlotte and Kate.
As Father's Day approaches, here are three lessons from being a dad that have made me a better leader:
1. Always Be Curious
Children are always curious. They ask a lot of questions. They try to find out "why," and better understand the world around them. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, people often start to lose that curiosity as fear sets in, and they get used to what they know and what they're comfortable with. But it's essential for leaders to remain curious--to ask, "How can we do this better?" And just as great parents stimulate curiosity in their children, great leaders inspire curiosity in their teams.
2. Praise Often; Never Criticize
Children frequently test boundaries, get into mischief, and make mistakes. It's natural; they're learning. But study after study has proven: criticism won't make them change. Criticism makes children feel bad, and doesn't alter their behavior. Instead, praise works; pointing out when you see positive behavior, rewarding it publicly, and celebrating success. In the same way, great leaders focus on the positive, reward and encourage their employees strengths and successes. Even though you sometimes know more as a parent or leader, it's always wise to avoid criticism, especially public criticism.
3. Honesty is the Best Policy
Children are refreshingly honest. They say what comes to their mind, even when it's, "Dad, I think you gained weight!" or "Dad, I really don't like grandma's tuna fish salad." (That one was in front of Grandma.) As kids grow up, they get a filter; they learn to hold back at times, stretch the truth, or sometimes even lie. But while there are advantages to holding back sometimes--in general, honesty is easier in the long run. As social media becomes the norm, great leaders are increasingly embracing honest, open, transparent cultures. Perhaps children know best: Truth is a mark of a great leader.
What have you learned from your children that have helped you become a better leader? Let me know in the comments section below. And Happy Fathers Day!
There's no such thing as a fast, simple, billion-dollar check. Three founders explain the dark, dirty, and occasionally comical aspects of their exits.
Cashing out of your start-up: It's often seen as the light at the end of the tunnel. Only it rarely looks like heaven.
So say Svpply co-founder Greg Leppert, OMGPop founder Charles Forman, and LinkShare co-founder Stephen Messer, who spoke at the fifth annual Northside Festival in Brooklyn Thursday.
Leppert, who sold Svpply, an online retail curation company, to eBay in September, says there are plenty of misconceptions about how a big-price-tag deal goes down. He mocked a typical over-simplification of the process as: "You're running a business and one day someone says, 'How about a billion dollars?' and you say 'That's great!'...and suddenly you're buying a Ferrari."
If only. It's more like a long negotiation over creating a life-partnership, Leppert said.
In the case of Svpply, when interest from a potential "partner" started heating up, the company's board advised Leppert to explore--and amass a portfolio of--other options.
"That's when you start to run a process, and you go out and talk to all the other companies that have expressed interest in working with you, as well as companies you'd be interested in working with," Leppert says. "So when you sit down at the table you have not just one offer, but multiple offers. And that gives you good 'leverage,' which is a word board members like to use a lot."
Forman, whose company was behind the uber-popular game Draw Something, which sold to Zynga for $210 million last year, says his "leverage" came from not other acquisition offers, but rather from collecting term sheets from three venture capital firms that affirmed the valuation he wanted.
The acquisition process for a start-up usually takes between three weeks and nine months. But for Draw Something, "the house was on fire" already when the game was the most popular in the iTunes store, Forman says. So its acquisition to Zynga was a lightning-quick 10 days, start-to-finish. "Which is the fastest a deal of that size has gotten done," Forman says.
While that timeline is certainly atypical, and founders usually have weeks or months to digest a deal, start-up employees are usually in the dark until a deal is inked--and news of an acquisition can be earth-shaking for them. Messer, who started LinkShare with his sister, and sold it for $425 million in 2005 to Rakuten (a company he calls "the eBay of Japan"), says his employees didn't adjust well to the news of the acquisition.
"The thing about a start-up is, it does become the dreams and aspirations of everyone who is in it," he says. So, when you reach the moment where a big deal is about to happen, "everyone starts to splinter," Messer says.
One point of contention and confusion for employees affected by the OMGPop acquisition was that stock options varied a lot based on employee tenure and salary. "Some people thought that whatever the sale price was, it would be evenly distributed among the employees," Forman says, getting a laugh from the crowd. But there are more subtle seeds of ill-will that can grow among start-up employees during, and after, an acquisition.
"As a team, you are conditioned to hate that company that acquired you," Forman says, because that company is often a larger competitor. "But all of a sudden you are part of that company." And that can become a cancerous situation--one that contributes, Forman says, to start-ups being shut down by their buyer.
Leppert says he had the same experience: "One day you're trying to take down the giant; the next day you're holding hands," and that was jarring to his small staff of fewer than 10 employees.
Sure, a big payoff is the reward for the founding team. But it's not always easier after the deal is signed, Messer says. "There are companies that come in the day after signing and paint. They paint over your logo, they burn your old stuff...That's scary."
NewYork.com was looking for a way to create pre-launch buzz. Here's how the site enlisted Instagram photographers to do just that.
I recently had the opportunity to collaborate on a project with one of my agency's clients that captures the very best of what Instagram has to offer for brands. NewYork.com, a city guide for both locals and tourists, was officially launching its website earlier this month. Though the site had invested heavily in building a top-notch editorial team and commerce platform, it was new to a very cluttered market of similar sites.
To help break through the clutter, we decided to invite the most passionate, committed, connected creators and curators of authentic New York City content to be part of the NewYork.com mission. Since New York City is so visual, we focused on Instagram users. We reviewed hundreds of Instagram feeds that centered on New York photography and picked nine photographers who best exemplified the kind of passion and energy for the city we were seeking.
We invited our Instagramers out for a day of shooting in New York City, during which we had our own cameras tag along to get an up-close and personal view of how they view the city. Collectively, the photographers shared hundreds of photos with more than 500,000 followers and helped promote NewYork.com to new audiences who weren't familiar with the site. We also chronicled the day in a video that we distributed to news outlets on Twitter using the hash tag #WeLoveThisCity. Then, we invited people to tell us what they love about New York City on either Twitter or Facebook for a chance to win prizes.
The result? The campaign helped us build an army of supporters and generated more than 1.5 million social impressions. The credibility we earned from the campaign also helped fuel a star-studded launch party that brought together some of New York's best known personalities, including Kevin Bacon and Jane Krakowski. Our success was ultimately driven by the media coverage of our Instagram campaign, which ultimately helped reduce our budget and the need for paid media advertising.
Some key takeaways from the experience: First, identify the right social platform for your campaign. For us, Instagram made sense due to the visual nature of the brand we were selling. Our campaign likely wouldn't have been as effective if driven through other, less visual, social platforms. Second, prize passion over follower counts. Our focus was on finding photographers who took the most engaging photos. Great work matters far more than how many followers one has on social media and the quality of the photos we were able to capture was truly inspiring. Third, freedom drives authenticity. We didn't tell the photographers what they should or shouldn't do. Our ask was simple: Help us shoot the essence of what makes New York special to you.
Everyone would like the perfect mentor. You can use LinkedIn to get one. Here's how.
Recently I was speaking at a California university when a young woman impressed me with a single statement. She told me that even though she wasn't graduating until next year, she had already used LinkedIn to secure five mentors in her chosen field of marketing.
I have always had great mentors throughout my life. They were amazing people who had already advanced on a similar journey and helped me avoid hazards and pitfalls. Mentors give generously of their time and knowledge, often for just the satisfaction of helping someone who inspires them. But finding and attracting the right mentor was always a challenge. It took a lot of networking, introductions, and conversations.
I was fascinated that this smart young student was able to easily create powerful relationships that will give her an edge throughout her career. I couldn't resist interviewing her about her method so I could share it with you. So here is her process. I hope it helps you find those willing to help with your journey.Step 1. Find Relevant People
LinkedIn makes it easy to search for the right mentor. With industry groups and the ability to look at the connections of your connections, it's easy to find people who are doing the things you want to do. Find the people who are truly on your desired career path. There may be other people who can help you with connections or insights, but the people at the top of your desired field and in your desired positions are the best ones to help you navigate your own path to success.Step 2. Do Your Homework
The first part of your homework is to create a presentable profile for yourself. Once you are projecting an image of someone worthy of another's time you can focus on learning about your potential mentors. Read everything about them. Read all of their recommendations, job descriptions and interests. Check out posts and updates they have made over time. Research them on Google so you can see any press or anything they have written. Make sure their expertise is a fit for your desired career path. The more you know about them the easier it will be to connect in an authentic manner.Step 3. Connect In a Meaningful Way
Don't just send out a canned inquiry. Take the time to write a concise personal note that shows your potential mentor that you have an appreciation for who he or she is, and what he or she has accomplished. (Don't overdo it, or you may find yourself the subject of a restraining order.) Briefly and specifically explain your path and how you think he or she can help. Express thanks for his or her time and consideration. Make it easy to connect and give reasonable time to respond. No stalking. Don't be creepy.Step 4. Establish Specific Boundaries
If your potential mentor expresses interest, discuss how much time is acceptable and methods of communication. Some people may not be available for weekly meetings. They may just offer to answer a specific question here or there. Respect their wishes and abide by their rules. Time is their most valuable commodity so show them you appreciate not only the time they share but the time they need for their own lives. Watch for signals of concern so you keep the relationship healthy and warm.Step 5. Show Gratitude Through Action
You went through all this effort to start this relationship, now you need to foster it. The best way to show appreciation to mentors is to demonstrate that you listened to their guidance and took action. Thank you cards and gifts may or may not seem appropriate, but the more you share the benefits and positive effects of their insights, the more encouraged they will be to share more.
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From personal phone calls to clipping nails at your desk, here's a slew of things you shouldn't do in the office.
In an effort to remove barriers to working together and foster collaboration, many companies have taken down old-school cubicles in favor of more open spaces. Those cavernous, lofty work spaces sure look awesome--but is all this openness a little too open and are co-workers starting to get on each other's nerves?
From typing too loudly to personal phone calls to the loathsome habit of clipping nails at a desk, let's examine some common habits that might be annoying the hell out of your office neighbors and causing trouble in the workplace.Save It For the Bathroom, Please
One of the top things that peeve co-workers is personal hygiene being conducted at the desk or in shared office areas. The biggest offenders include clipping nails (fingers and, yes, toes), flossing teeth and putting on a full face of makeup.
And apparently, some bosses participate in this behavior, too. The product marketing director at my e-mail marketing company, VerticalResponse, shared her story about a time when one of her bosses took off his shoes and socks in a meeting, put his feet on the table and proceeded to clip his toenails. I'm not kidding. This same boss also cleaned his ears with the pull-back tab from a coffee cup lid during another meeting. Imagine trying to carry on a professional conversation while that's happening?! The director ended up politely excusing herself from the room, but she could have also let her boss know his bare feet and nail clipping made her feel uncomfortable so she wouldn't have to get up and leave each time it happened.Your Noises Are Putting People Over the Edge
When you sit in close proximity to others, the little things can start to grate on people. Even though the sight of people with headphones listening to the latest tunes on Spotify is now commonplace at work, you can't block it all out. Some of the offenses that people cite as annoying include ongoing throat clearing, coughing, sniffing and piercing laughter. Loud typing, finger drumming and taking conference calls on speaker phone also are common workplace offenders. If this gets your goat, it's fine to communicate with the person making the noise and politely ask them to turn down the volume, etc. The key here is mutual respect and keeping it professional.Kitchen Nightmares
Having a kitchen in your office is a great benefit, but can lead to all kinds of annoyances big and small. We once found a pair of running shoes in our common freezer! Why? The owner of the sneakers claimed that the freezer kills the bacteria that makes running shoes smell and thought nothing wrong of placing them in there. Understandably, her co-workers didn't share her rationale.
Some other kitchen faux pas include not cleaning up after yourself, leaving a sink full of dishes, not making coffee when the pot is empty, not running the dishwasher, and cooking overly fragrant foods like fish, popcorn and broccoli. Have you encountered any of these kitchen offenses? Most often, these things can be addressed directly. Most people get that they should clean up after themselves, they often are just busy and forget. A little reminder and nudge can go a long way.Too Much Information
We've all encountered the colleague who feels a bit too comfortable with co-workers, sharing intimate details of her latest date or every last detail about his kid's school field trip. And if the oversharer doesn't get you, then you might have a Chatty Cathy in the ranks who spends a good chunk of the day with her endless chatter about everything under the sun, distracting you and everyone around her. If you've got one of these folks in your crew you can let them know you love to chat, but you've got a lot of deadlines and need to tend to your work first.
One of the last examples I've got is the co-worker who takes her cell phone into the restroom and proceeds to have a conversation while doing her "business." My question is, what do you do when it's time to flush? I got my answer when my product marketing director told me about the time she was on the phone with her VP when all of a sudden she heard it--the sound of a flush!
Do you witness these common co-worker annoyances happening in your office? Got any you want to add to the list? Let's hear 'em and how you deal in the comments below!
Put an end to shopping cart abandonment. Check out an easy way to get a second chance to make the sale.
While buying some software online from Hagel Technologies Ltd., I recently came across a marketing strategy that was smart, efficient, and applicable to almost any e-commerce operation. It was an automated counter-offer that gave the company a second chance at making the sale.
This technique addresses a major aspect of shopping cart abandonment. People go to a website, begin to place an order, and then abandon the shopping cart. How frequently? Anywhere from 60 percent to 80 percent of the time.
This often happens because the seller has hidden some important information--the cost of a product or shipping expense--and displayed it only once the buyer reaches the shopping cart. The theory goes, that by moving someone into an order form, you increase the chance that the prospect will complete a purchase rather than simply collecting information without being asked to buy. But it doesn't always work that way in practice.
In my case, I had used a trial version of some software, was getting so-called nagware messages to buy, and started to think about paying for a copy. Clicking on the purchase button, I was taken to the company's site. However, the prices seemed significantly higher than I thought was reasonable for what the package did.
So I decided to head off, except the e-commerce portion of the company's site didn't let me do that immediately. Instead, it asked whether I wanted to buy the software at my price, provided that it was one the company was willing to work with. I put in a low price, which the site rejected. But it came back with what the company was willing to accept. That amount, between the original price and what I offered, seemed fair and I bought.
Clearly, Hagel knew the price that it wanted for the software might seem too high for a significant portion of customers. At the same time, management clearly did not want to lower the price if someone was willing to pay more. So someone wrote some code for this back-and-forth.
The company had a floor price in mind. Any offer at or above the floor price would be accepted. Any offer below the floor price would be rejected, but the consumer would then be offered the floor price. Not all will bite, but Hagel reduces the number of sales it might lose and boosts its revenue by having a range of prices rather than a single low one.
Although you might immediately think, as did I, that this would only work for software, ebooks, and other intangible products without an incremental cost of goods, that isn't the case. A company with a manufactured product would simply set the floor price at a level that covers the cost of the product and a minimum acceptable margin.
Best of all, you don't need to buy an additional software package to make this happen. Your tech team can insert the basic coding into your site. Then you just need to experiment to find pricing that works.