Random musings, observations, squeaks, whimpers and perhaps the ocassional rant. About what, I'm not sure.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Some Days Have a Theme or Two...

I swear, while browsing and blogging around it seems like some days have a theme.  Today the two themes would have to be “innovate or die” and “stick to your guns”.  As part of the former riff, read Jim Carroll’s rant on what he calls the “Masters of Business Innovation” degree.  I wish there actually was one of these, particularly since legions of MBAs are choking the life out of so many companies.

Anyway, Jim’s tongue-in-cheek post highlights a couple of very important points about creativity, innovation and having and delivering vision… here’s the short list:

  • see things differently
  • spur creativity in other people
  • focus on opportunity, not threat
  • refuses to accept the status quo
  • bring ideas to life
  • has the skill to learn and unlearn
  • refuses to say the word "can't"
  • accepts challenges with passion and enthusiasm
  • embraces change rather than shying away from it
  • listens to people who are different then them
  • lives for the opportunity to have ideas challenged and debated
  • instead of saying "it won't work," asks the question, "how can we make it work?"

Don’t read the piece if if you’re a status-quo lover – you won’t like it ‘cause you’ll get another perspective on how you’re killing companies/organizations.  Whatever you do for a living, I guarantee you the pace of change is quickening, and if you’re wear the status quo like a dirty old blanket, I’d say you either get with the program, or that blanket’s gonna smother you.

Getting Out...

I’ve written before about Guy Kawasaki, someone from my business past.  Great guy – no pun intended – truly a visionary.  He’s a wuss, though, since he’d be a natural at blogging, and blogging would be an awesome vehicle for his thoughts and ideas.  But, I digress…

Saw this interesting post on partnership agreements, and why you should include an “out” clause in most/all, and why you shouldn’t necessarily have to give up your first born to do so.  Partnership agreements are only as good as the intention that helps form them, paper they’re printed on, and the collective law departments of the parties involved.  Guy is quoted in the post from The Art of the Start

Not having been present when such an agreement is struck can present a down-the-road dilemma – “yes, I know what the agreement SAYS, but what is/was the INTENT?  And what does the other party expect this actually MEANS?”  Not a happy place to be, particularly when one party wants to press an issue.  But I guarantee it will happen if you do many deals…

An excellent indicator of relationship trouble between a customer and consultant is whether anyone has their nose in the details of the agreement at any given moment.  This has proven an excellent bellwether in all sorts of partnership and alliance situations, too.  If you’re reaching for your copy of the contract to figure out who’s supposed to be doing what or to interpret terms, give yourself a subtle warning that things are already going wrong.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Circular References...


If you’ve worked much with Excel, you’ve probably screwed up a formula so it somehow refers to itself – a circular reference.  One variable that you try to change references another, which in turn updates the variable you’re trying to change… that kind of thing.

I’m writing about a different kind of circular reference – more of a circular trip, really.

When I first started working with the Apple IIc (this following TRS-80 hell), I needed a way to capture and manage information in a structured format.  There was some little app or another that did some of what I wanted – PFSFile, maybe – but I was frustrated in that the way the data was structured was the way you had to report it.  Which didn’t work for me.

In switching to the Mac just after its release, I played with a variety of approaches to this problem to support a Medical Billing company I had started.  Still, no real luck.  Structure and presentation were quite tightly linked.

Until one day after an early Macworld show in San Francisco and I get a package in the mail with a pre-release version of an application that would eventually be called FileMaker (who the heck was the initial publisher – Forethought or something?).  What a great little flat-filing database.  Easy to develop in – easy to use - easy to abstract either screen or report presentation from the data structure.

I used FileMaker as a hammer to pound software and business nails, screws, nuts and bolts equally well.  And as the app grew and became more powerful, I stuck with it.  Truly an excellent application and company – then Claris/Apple bought both and things got even better.  Its only real competitor was 4D from France (support and customer service aligned with the stereotype of how the French love/hate Americans), and it was pointed at a slightly different space. 

Until I started working with Windows.  I needed to do some of the same things on Windows that I’d done on the Mac, and whether it was not finding a direct map for FileMaker or a Windows-compatible version of the app, I eventually started drifting away from the platform.  Even to the extent of joining a company making the (ugly, painful, arduous) jump to Windows.  It had to be done, mind you, but it wasn’t pretty.  Windows was/is where the money was/is, remember?

Its funny how things have a way of coming full circle.  Lately, I’ve been working on a prototype of a little data analysis/management reporting application for work, and I’ve been frustrated that I haven’t been able to get Access to do what I wanted.  Yes, I know Access is the neatest thing since sliced bread, is relational, and everyone in the world knows it/is writing in it.  But I DON’T LIKE IT.  Its cumbersome, the interface is [bad], and most of all, it doesn’t seem to know what I’m THINKING as opposed to what I’m TELLING IT TO DO.

As I scratched my head and pondered who I know that I can get a couple of Access favors out of, I realized there might be another way.  Sure enough, I had clipped an InfoWorld article on FileMaker, which has been a true cross-platform app for years, and the review was good.  I’m wondering whether the interface is still as easy as it was, and whether it might be a good alternative to Access for at least prototyping what I’m up to.  Eventually, I may need a corporate-type to host the database so I may have to move back off of it and onto something more “mainstream”, but I’m going to give it a go.  Have to dig up my last disk – probably three or so years old – and see if there’s some sort of upgrade pricing available.

Wish me luck, and if you’re working with FileMaker and have good and/or bad experiences and want to share them, use comments below…

Seven Deadly Sins...

From Mike McLaughlin at the Guerilla Consulting blog, a great post on “The Seven Deadly Sins of Proposal Writing”.  It amazes me how many firms in so many different sectors of the economy don’t know how to write a good proposal or bid response or grant application.  One big mistake is thinking the proposal does your selling – that’s not its purpose.  The purpose of the proposal is to confirm and document what you’re selling, not present the ideas to the client for the first time.

Besides this mistake, there are a number of other faux pas that otherwise smart and savvy firms – of all sizes – for some unknown reason beat a well worn path to.  Here are Mike McLaughlin’s Seven Sins…

1. Lack of focus on the client's business problem and industry dynamics.

2. The "we, us, and our" syndrome. Does your proposal talk more about your firm than about the client's business?

3. No basis of differentiation. Focus is on weak differentiators such as quality service, price, responsiveness, and your firm's pedigree.

4. The expected value of the project isn't quantified so you can't use it as a baseline for justifying the proposed fee.

5. The proposal is laced with jargon, difficult to read, and doesn't include an issue-focused executive summary.

6. Reliance on a boilerplate resume.

7. Errors: misspellings, poor grammar, wrong client name, or inconsistent formats.

I’m in a deal at the moment with a well-known competitor who made at least four of these seven mistakes.  Not that we were perfect – we weren’t, and perhaps never are - but we definately fared better on points 1, 3, 5 and 7.  It was almost like the competitor didn’t want the business (maybe they didn’t), but if I were rating the firms and approaches, the proposals would have set the pace right away.  Whether the competitor could have done the job or not – they likely could have, in my mind – they did not position themselves for success and once that train starts rolling...  Good for us – not so good for them…

Hey Mike – I’m enjoying your blog.  I think I’ll have to buy your book

Great Consulting Website...


I have to thank Technorati for again unearthing an interesting place to spend a little Internet time.  I have a watchlist related to a couple of management frameworks/topics, and one of them yielded a link to a blog called “Guerrilla Consulting”.  Its written by a guy named Mike McLaughlin who’s also co-written a book called “Guerrilla Marketing for Consultants“ with Jay Levinson (author or co-author of something like 10 or more marketing books).  The 15 or so posts I read seem to deliver solid if simple advice for consultants.

I especially liked one post on ideas as intellectual property/capital.  Here’s an excerpt…

Some consultants resist sharing their ideas and the products of those ideas (AKA intellectual capital) with clients before they're hired to do a project. They fear that clients will take their work and try to complete the project on their own, or worse, give it to another consultant.

The world is awash in information and ideas. If you're stingy with yours, it will show. Besides, client aren't buying your methodology, tools, or your point of view. They're buying your expertise, and that can't be pilfered by poring over proposed workplans, preliminary recommendations, or your perspectives on how to solve a problem.

If you’ve done much consulting or hired many consultants, you’ve seen this.  A related flavor is trying to apply intellectual property constraints – trademarks, copyright, patents – to every little thing you produce.  If you’re a budding consultant and you’re doing this – stop.  Today.  It makes you and your firm look like amateurs.  Here are a couple of examples…

I think both of these scenarios are the result of “scarcity mentality” – rampant in small businesses and perhaps more so in small/one-person consultancies.  I’ve written about this before – its viewing the world thinking there’s a lack of everything… clients, ideas, capital, whatever – rather than believing resources are abundant, and that one must seek them out and then marshal them to good use.

If you’re good at what you do, there’s no reason to try to build what is essentially a see-through intellectual property fence around your ideas, or to be afraid that someone else will “get it” and overrun you.  Maybe you don’t want to share the intimate details of how you’re tweaking the latest methodology because you feel (and maybe rightly so) it provides you with a slight and temporary competitive advantage, but c’mon.  Believe in your skills – sell results.  Its easier, and far more lucrative.  You don’t become known or engaged for expertise or problem-solving by keeping your ideas in your head or under a rock.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Buffett is Open...


Read a snapshot of The Intelligent Investor, a book by Benjamin Graham, the father of value investing.  First published in 1949, this book is touted as a favorite of Warren Buffett, the billionaire investment guru behind Berkshire Hathaway.  Shouldn’t be a surprise… Buffett studied under Graham at Columbia.  I’m going to check it out… the most interesting part is on determining the intrinsic value of a stock, or a company.

Gaining insight on the basics of buying stocks that are inherently worth more than you pay for them would be a good thing, since this would seem to be 180–degrees from the way many stock market investments work…

Boutique on Budget...

Read a great article in April’s Fast Company magazine entitled “Boutique Hotels on a Budget”.  With the proliferation of smaller, higher-service hotels, someone (actually more than one, as it turns out) was bound to try to define the low end of this high end marketplace.  Funny thing is, if the definition of high-end is part service and part price, at least three companies/chains are shaking up the mix.

EasyHotel Photos

EasyHotel is EasyJet’s budget-but-boutique offering.  First property in London, small rooms (only 60, 70 or 80 square feet) and minimalist, but definitely boutique.  Rooms are supposed to range from $10 to $115 or so a night.  Wonder what a $10 hotel room looks like?  There’s a photo gallery on the site – if orange is your color, these folks are for you.

Yotel Photo

Yotel is another European offering, spawned by a successful restaurant chain called Yo Sushi.  They’ll also open first in London (2006), the rooms are 100 square feet and will cost around $135 a night, but have a high amenity factor, including flat-screen TV’s and special lighting to help with jet lag adjustment.  Their press release emphasizes high design and function at a budget price.

The only offering noted to be starting in the US is Cambria Suites, offered by Choice Hotels (Comfort Inn, Clarion, EconoLodge) who plans to open in Miami and Chicago this coming year.  Rooms will be around a hundred bucks a night, offer separate work and sleep areas, plasma TVs, and WiFi (I assume the other hotels will offer this, too.  How can you not these days?  Here’s a partial description from the Cambria Suites press release:

Public spaces at Cambria Suites brand hotels will be open, contemporary and inviting. Lobbies will include club lounge seating and a large screen "media wall"; a lounge serving liquor, wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages; and a coffee bar serving premium coffees. Food and beverage options will also include a paid-for hot and cold breakfast buffet and a 24/7 convenience store stocked with food and sundry items. Each hotel will also include an expanded fitness facility, an indoor pool and more than 1,000 square feet of meeting space. Additional business services include onsite faxing, copying and printing as well as multiple lobby power/Internet ports and high speed wired and wireless Internet access.

If you’re travelling around and are tired of the 500–room behemoths that are charging more than these rates, maybe one or more of these are worth a try.  You’ll probably be in Europe when you try them… I’ll probably check out the one in Miami.  Having a cool place to crash in or near the hub of the Latin universe would be a good thing…

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Watch Me...

Seiko Sportura Duo Display Chronograph

Who doesn’t like a cool watch?  I was browsing around the thousand or so RSS blog updates I’m behind on and found a reference to the new Seiko Sportura watch series.  Very slick – several configurations, including one I’ve kind of been looking for – analog and digital with an alarm feature.  Not sure I like the price, though – retails around $700 although I found it online at Amazon for about $350 plus a few bucks for shipping.

While hunting around for the feature list and the user guide, I figured going to Seiko would be a good start.  Not so much.  Their site is nicely styled, but the section on the Sportura has some weird bugs – like you can’t really drill into the photos of the watches and get anywhere, and there’s no real feature list.  Seems odd for a company that spent so much money on their design, and then the execution – at least from a shopper’s perspective – sucks.

Friday, May 06, 2005

"Reconnecting with Old Friends" Week...

What a crazy week.  I literally drove nearly a thousand miles this week, between my regular stuff, a trip to Orlando and back on Weds. and then a trip to Tampa on Thurs. pm and back tonight.  Whew!  And who says it isn’t fun to drive (OK… ME!).

Got two phone calls from old friends this week and had a chance to catch up a bit.  Nicholas Eisner, one of the guys I got to know best but also enjoyed working with the most at Shana called, and he’s coming to Florida on business next week.  NASA was one of our oldest, largest and most loyal clients, and believe it or not, Nicholas is still working with them, albeit now for FileNet (knowing just a little about what FileNet is and isn’t doing with our technology makes this amazing to me).  Nicholas is a very interesting guy… one of the most talented customer-facing folks I’ve ever met, and the customers just love him for it.  I’ll slide up to Cocoa Beach or thereabouts on Monday night and we’ll catch up a bit.  Nicholas is coming down from Ottawa, and just in time for the start of our “summer” weather.  Can’t wait to see him!

Bill Kalmbach, AKA “Clueberg” at the Hacienda

Then tonight the phone rings and its Bill Kalmbach from Motorola.  Or I should say from FreeScale, since Motorola spun off the semiconductor business.  I have to say Bill is one of the hardest working guys I know, and he’s a whiz at all sorts of electrical, electronic and communications stuff.  It was Bill’s vision that saved Motorola from a terminally incorrect view of bridging e-mail and paging in Austin that led to the opportunity to build our paging gateway solution. 

Then, Bill was truly a visionary in terms of how alternative communication devices like alpha pagers would be applied in business, but more importantly he bucked the (uncharacteristic for Motorola) bureaucracy, got decisions made and then helped architect a solution that’s still transmitting over a million internal paging messages a year.  I still can’t believe that software works (grin), but it does, and that project was the springboard for my little consultancy and also for building business confidence.  Thanks for everything, Bill.  Good to hear from you, and can’t wait to see you and the family in late October when I come out for AMTC.

Congrats Harry & Jules...

Miss Rileyanne Elizabeth Pierson

Congratulations to Harry and Julie Pierson, the proud parents of Miss Rileyanne Elizabeth Pierson, their healthy brand-new baby girl.  Riley was born on 05.05.05, and her birth appointment was at – you guessed it – 5:00.  From Harry’s personal blog Blue Blazes Irregular Harry Pierson (as opposed to his business blog DevHawk), sounds like things went the way they’re supposed to.  Can’t wait to see you guys – sounds like July at this point, except I’ll see Harry in June for business in Orlando.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Amazon Is At It Again. Not in a Good Way...

I swear the Amazon and the Harvard Business School Press Online people are in cahoots.  If I don’t get a highly targeted mailing from one of them, I get one from the other…

The mailing tonight was from Amazon, and its an e-book, which surprised me ‘cause I didn’t know they did that.  The trouble is, I bought the “book” for six bucks, and when I downloaded it I found the title of the solicitation was totally misleading, and rather than content on the topic advertised, I essentially had paid for a press release (albeit reprinted in some Photo Marketing magazine).

Homey don’t play that.

So, I tried to return the item.  The return process seemed to work fine – indicate the order I’m returning from, indicate the item and quantity, indicate the reason.  No worries.  Until I get to the physical address I have to return the item to, so that Amazon can then credit me the six bucks.

There’s a lesson here.  First, Amazon, if you’re going to get into the e-book business, do it with, say, e-books rather than crappy magazine articles.  Or maybe the citation was supposed to lead to the book – either way, the system sucks.  Then, if the user doesn’t want the content, let them return it.  You know, electronically.


Back in the Saddle. Sort of...

Back in town after a week’s worth of business travel.  I was in Wheeling, West Virginia for 6 nights, then Pittsburgh for a night and then home.  Except for Friday, where I was had virtually no Cell service (Yay!), although it worked well enough one evening for me to get bad news about a friend’s son who passed away.  That’s a shame.

I think I now have over 1700 items in my e-mail inbox, and probably have 10 VMs to return (including yours, Harry).  It was great not to be so plugged-in, especially this weekend when I intentionally ignored both phone and e-mail.  I’ll pay for that this coming week, I’m sure…