Monthly Archives: February 2014

February Wrap Up

I was frantically searching through the bank of half-started posts that I have, wondering what I was going to write about today. Then I realized that it’s the last post of the month and therefore can be for some reflection.

A few months back I made a commitment to try my best to stop just posting online gripes about things that piss me off. Not that I thought that I did too much of that, but regardless. What I’ve found since then is sort of funny: Apparently people like the bitching.

Looking at viewership stats, many of the posts that I think are thoughtful and insightful don’t get the views that posts that I complain about stuff do. I guess the people have spoken!

I don’t quite know how that is going to effect posts in the future, because as always I’m going to write about what tickles my fancy. However, I’m definitely going to turn down the dial on my filter a little bit more and get personal more often.

It makes sense, too, because the people who are reading these posts are from my social channels. I’m not delusional, thinking that people are stumbling on this website and really liking the content. It’s you, the people that I have a personal connection with, who are the audience.

And to that end, I don’t want to be isolating my audience.

A few months back I posted about having a bit of a, “Eff them if they can’t take a joke,” attitude, which is true to strangers. The last thing I want to be doing is insulting friends, though.

So when I come off preachy and you think that I may be referring to you 1) remember that I’m an idiot and am probably not expressing myself properly and 2) remember that I’m an idiot and have more than enough flaws to make up for whatever I’m insulting you about. In conclusion, just remember I’m an idiot.

Oh, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that we have now passed the one-year mark of the blog (started February of last year). This is also the 144th post and it’s kind of cool that it’s 12^2. Or not. Remember: I’m an idiot.

Should Businesses Begin at the End?

Beginning with the end in mind is a best practice that we hear about all the time. When I took my project management course it was pretty much the first thing that we were taught in it. While this likely is a good idea for short-term endeavors, is this really how we want people thinking when they start a business?

In the entrepreneurship classes I took, as well as books I’ve read and speakers I’ve gone to see, the “exit strategy” is a major focus. Essentially when you start a business you should have a timeframe to cashing out, most typically in the form of a sale.

While putting a timeline and dollar value on the sale of the company may be good for investors to see, is that really what is best for our companies or economy in general?

If your thought from the outset is that you are not going to be running the company for more than a few years, how will decision making be impacted? All decisions will be made with the short term in mind, which is never good for any company.

The idea of running a business for a few years then cashing out is nice and clean, especially academically when trying to teach about ownership, it doesn’t translate well into the real world.

I have a hard time believing that the entrepreneurs that I admire thought to themselves, “I have this great business idea that I can run for 5 years then retire.” I don’t remember ever reading the “Starting the Business with an Exit Strategy” chapter in any of their (auto)biographies.

If you want some more concrete examples, just look around. Bill Gates recently announced that he is taking more of a day-to-day role in Microsoft. Warren Buffett is in his 80s and still running the company. Steve Jobs came back to Apple (his baby), leaving behind another successful company. Richard Branson is still running around doing his thing.

All the above listed are rich enough to do pretty much anything they want. So what do they want to do? Stay involved in their companies!

Thinking in the longer term is also better for investors. It keeps the imagination going and the company focused on limitless growth, rather than hitting a number for sale. As a VC, would you prefer to have been an early funder of Facebook (a company that only when public when it had to) or Groupon (who rushed to IPO and is now tanking)?

One of the companies is focused on being around for a long time, while the other was focused on making a quick buck. And the results speak for themselves.

Massive Open Online Courses

The concept of MOOCs interest me because they are (or seem to be) in line with the purest form of education, it’s free and for the curious. The reason that I add curious is that it is a new enough concept that you still don’t quite know what you’re getting when you sign up. Also, you’re likely taking the course for love of learning, because you’re not getting the largest benefit you pay for in post-secondary: the degree.

To take a step back, I’m not saying that people don’t learn things in university, because we know that’s not true. But along with the knowledge acquired, the piece of paper we get at the end is also very important, and I would argue a large part of what we pay for.

The actual degree that is acquired is a short-hand for credibility. A reputable institution which has proven proficiency in teaching a certain subject has vouched for you that you have learned a significant enough amount of that subject to be useful in that field. In today’s world that is important.

If we were to be completely honest, all the materials we cover in an undergrad degree (and I would guess the majority covered in higher-level academic pursuits) can be found in books and online. Though could you imagine going to an employer and saying, “I never went to university, but have read a lot about fluid dynamics. I would consider myself an engineer.” I don’t think that it would go over too well.

Side note: The exception to that seems to be Elon Musk, who essentially became a rocket scientist by reading a lot of books. That guy is awesome.

MOOCs are a little bit different, though. While there is no cost to the courses, along with no defined path through them, or degree at the end, they still have something a little bit more. Along with the reading materials, you are receiving instruction. Not only is there instruction, but there is also interaction with other students. And this is all run through reputable institutions.

Does it really compare, though?

I read an article on LinkedIn about a woman who was working through an MBA equivalent in the form of MOOCs, which is to say on the cheap. It was very interesting to me that she seemed to be able to take the majority of courses that a graduate level degree requires and I’m even a little interested in starting to try it on my own.

Sure, there is a case being made that this woman is acquiring a comparable level of knowledge, but will this equate into the same benefit of a fully sanctioned MBA? To me it all comes down to complexity of communicating what you have accomplished.

Let’s assume that someone who has completed the program that this woman is proposing applies for a job which lists an MBA as a requirement. How will the applicant be able to communicate effectively to the person screening the resume that they, in fact, have taken the equivalent of an MBA to a solid enough extent that the screener will then take the risk of putting a seemingly unqualified candidate through to the next round?

On the rare chance that the applicant is granted an interview, how will they convince the interviewer, or panel, that they are as qualified as an MBA thanks to their self-study? Even if they are able to do that, how can the person who signs off on the hiring be comfortable taking a gamble on how the new employee when there are likely others with verifiable degrees who could take the position? Will customers and shareholders understand why they made the new hire and be comfortable with it?

I don’t think I have to belabor the point any longer. While a cool exercise, I think the MOOC MBA (at this point in time, at least) is more about the joy of learning than actually getting ahead. Not to say that in the future something more legitimate won’t emerge, but if anyone aspires to follow in Ms. Pickard’s footsteps, they should likely do so with their eyes open.

As I said at the beginning of the post though, I like the idea of MOOCs as pure learning and think I’m going to sign up for one. I still stand by my belief that self improvement shouldn’t stop and this seems like a great way to have some structured learning at little to no cost.

Understanding Motivation

I don’t know what it is, but something recently has calmed me down a lot. It may be the fact that it’s so cold and miserable outside that there’s no point in getting all worked up. Or maybe it’s part of getting older.

I think that it has something to do with my new mindset of trying to understand motivation. Not my own, because I think when I’m being honest with myself I know what makes me tick. And when I’m not being honest with myself I prefer the lie over whatever is really happening.

What I’ve been trying to think about a lot lately is what motivates others.

In the past I have spent too much time and energy being irritated by the actions of others, to the point of trying to convince them they are incorrect. This is a fool’s errand.

What I realize now is that the final culmination of any situation is just an outcome. An effect related to a cause. In order to truly understand behaviour and therefore influence others what I needed to think about was the underlying motivation, not the end result.

To back it up a step when I say “motivation” what I’m referring to is the reason for taking meaningful action. It can be big or small, but there is a reason for every decision we make, or choose not to make.

In order to make this shift I first had to get into the mind-frame of thinking of everyone else as a dynamic, complex human being, with the same level of depth of thought that I have. While this is something we all know on an intellectual level, in day to day interaction it’s usually not top of mind.

It may have just been me, but what I found is that my assumptions about people are usually a culmination of our interactions with one another. While this isn’t necessarily incorrect, there are definitely some downsides, especially when you want to change the dynamic of the relationship.

I have a couple of examples that exemplify how this way of thinking has helped me. One of the relationships is extremely brief and superficial, while the other very long and deep.

The briefest of relationships is that of other drivers in traffic. I used to get very frustrated at poor driving, especially when it was people cutting me off to get into the lane that I have been waiting patiently in for some time while they just breezed past the line. The worst.

During one of these instances, while leaning into the horn, I started to think about how the other driver may feel. In my mind there were three different possibilities.

  1. They didn’t know they had to get into that lane until it was too late.
  2. They have a legitimate reason to be in a rush (important meeting, family emergency, etc.)
  3. They are a genuine asshole and/or bad driver.

Then I started thinking about how I’ve done the exact same move for all of the reasons above, at least once. While I don’t do it all the time, it does happen on occasion and maybe I’ve caught the driver on one such occasion.

I let this one action completely define how I thought about this person, while there may be a number of other things at play here. What’s more is it really worth getting worked up over for the 2.5 second delay it had caused me? Likely not.

Regardless, if they really are an asshole and/or bad driver, odds are that will catch up to them some day.

The longer relationship was that with my parents. For a little bit of background, I’ve known my parents my whole life and we have a good relationship. Stable house, always loved and supported, the whole nine yards.

Now at 27, though, it does get annoying on the occasions that I’m still treated like a child. Sometimes it seems like even though I’ve lived away from home and managed not to die for multiple years now, my ability to do some pretty basic human-adult things is brought into question.

While frustrating, I just needed to stop and think about what was motivating this behaviour to make some sense of it.

First, I’ve done a lot of stupid crap in my life. Most of which my parents were left dealing with, which could not have been fun for them. Not being able to fully shake of my many bad decisions that they had to clean up seems fairly reasonable upon further reflection.

The other thing to think about is the alternative is having parents who don’t care about me, which doesn’t seem like a good option. While it is likely to never fully go away, the onus is on me to change their years of conditioning regarding my ability to take care of myself.

So while I think I may have taken the long way around, the motivation behind the actions of others is the key to truly understanding them and therefore influencing them. While it may not always seem it, people are rational and there are deep reasons behind nearly everything that they do. Once those are understood, you will be much further ahead in the relationship.

Innocence of Sports

Another Olympics has started. As a few of my posts will attest, and it shouldn’t come as a shock if you know me, I love sports. I think that they have provided a great amount of value to my life and would provide a similar amount to a great deal of others.

The thing that is always disheartening when sports are played on the world stage is how it shines a light on the world’s problems. For some reason when there is the backdrop of sports it seems worse to me, than the everyday news of how poorly countries and different groups treat one another.

Let’s take a look back at the past few years of international competition:

  • Everything that we’re hearing about Sochi (don’t think I have to go into it).
    • I will point out the athletes that are competing as independents, rather than for their country. Every time I hear about an independent athlete I think, “I hope no one tells the Quebec athletes they can do that.” Especially since we’d only have like 3 medals without Quebec at this point.
  • The protesting and unrest that has been going on in Brazil leading up to the World Cup that is still a few months away.
  • The last Euro Cup where there were racist and other hate group demonstrations around, and even in, the stadiums.
  • Reports of corruption and shoddy infrastructure at the last Commonwealth Games in India.
    • A bridge collapsed days before the games opened.

That’s all just off the top of my head and in the last few years. I don’t even want to go into things like the inner-games corruption that seems to rear its head all the time or something as serious as the 1972 Munich Massacre.

Everything above is just the things that happen at the games. There are things that happen in the real world that could make the Olympics very awkward for some people. Am I the only one who cringed when the Georgian team made their entrance?

However, the show must go on and we’re not going to stop producing the Olympics and other sporting events just because a little bit of corruption and international unrest. Maybe that’s even one of the reasons to keep going on.

Although it’s mired in the crap of the world, somehow sports manages to continue to rise above (and/or turn a blind eye) to what’s going on around it. That way every couple of years we can pretend the world is an innocent place, where one day maybe we all can get along.

Either that or it’s just another form of battle, with the victorious countries asserting dominance over the others. You can decide.

Privacy Concerns

Every time there is some report or Wiki Leak or Edward Snowden type that comes out and tells us about how the government is spying on all citizens, I’m always surprised at the outcry. Not at the fact that there is outcry, mind you, but rather the focus.

There is always a clear and loud cry about the government infringing on our privacy, but very little is said about how they are able to do that. Especially when the information the government is gathering is with the help of private companies, more often than not.

I don’t know if it’s thanks to the bias of media, the short attention span of the masses or some other factor, but every time there is a headline about how the NSA gathered more information, no one seems to give much thought to the foot note that it came from Apple, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, etc. While I don’t love that the American government has the ability to read my emails, I really don’t like how easy it seems for the private corporations to fork it over.

Paints a future that’s more Skynet than it is 1984.

To me it comes down to involvement of the commons. Even if it’s biased, skewed and corrupt, at least we the people have some involvement in government once every few years. Not too comforting, but there is something.

Also, the government could plausibly be using the information for security reasons. While it’s sneaky and unsettling, at least it’s an end that most of us can get behind. Even if you don’t support the means.

What I wonder about is what the corporations are gathering the information for, other than for personalized advertising and to give the government. You just know that it wasn’t sitting there unused until the big bad NSA bullied them into giving it up. If the information is being collected, it’s being collected with purpose.

I’m not really into conspiracy theories, nor am I that worried about what is being collected about me, to be honest. I know that I’m not doing anything criminal and can only assume that they have much, MUCH bigger fish to fry. I truly can’t see how my email is interesting to anyone other than me, and even then with some messages labeling me as “interested” is pushing it.

No, I’m more interested in human nature. Why it is that we’re so quick to jump all over our elected officials and give private companies the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it is because we feel as though the government is accountable to us, while there is no use trying to change the course of corporations.

Or maybe we have actually reached a place in society where we trust public institutions less than what’s behind the curtain at our favourite brands.

Losing Is As Important As Winning

I have played sports virtually my entire life. My parents were both athletes and put a high emphasis on it. Not at being the best there is, but ensuring we participated to the best of our abilities and were always involved in something.

For better or worse (I think mostly better) the person I am today is largely influenced by what I learned playing sports. In my extremely biased opinion, there are many real-world lessons that can be taught through the context of athletics. What’s more those lessons are served in mini form and are simple enough for a developing child’s brain to grasp. Kids playing sports is a good thing.

There has been a movement in sports that I have seen since my time playing. Looking back I seem to be fortunate enough to be essentially the last generation unaffected.

It’s a sweeping change that is robbing kids of a valuable lesson. It’s a lesson that everyone learns eventually but is much easier to swallow as a kid, when it’s related to a game, rather than as an adult and it’s life altering.

The lesson is how to lose.

The recent push to stop keeping scores may come from the right place (which I can only assume is not hurting kids’ feelings), but as the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved in good intentions. While that may seem a little extreme, proponents of this methodology truly may want to stop and think about what this is teaching the athletes.

First lesson is that achieving your goals doesn’t matter. What happens when one of the players score in these “fun” games? I can only assume nothing and then they are told just to go do it again. Talk about demotivating.

Second lesson is that everyone is treated equal. That isn’t even true if you want it to be. Rather than learning that practicing to improve your skills and putting in effort can increase your chances at success, they learn that everyone wins no matter how good you are or hard you work.

The third lesson that I’ll go into is they are learning to expect praise. The supporters often say that it’s more important to build the self-esteem of the kids. What’s better at building self-esteem than winning? And what’s a better motivator than losing?

Looking back growing up, I had a variety of experiences on different teams. There were championships and seasons where we lost practically every game. I was a bench-rider and a go-to person. There were teams that got along and others that didn’t.  Regardless of the year, I learned something.

Since apparently movie quotes are my thing now, this whole situation reminds me of one from The Incredibles.

The main villain Syndrome is a brat (likely because when he was a kid his soccer team didn’t keep score) and doesn’t like some people are super. His plan is to make super powers accessible to everyone, because, “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”