Monthly Archives: April 2014

Wrapping Up April

End of another month means that I get to just ramble for a bit. These are usually the best read, so I guess that people like them. Or like judging / making fun of me. Either way.

After having done this for a while, I seem to be more skeptical about mainstream media reports, especially when it comes to speculating about motivation. Not that I’m in any way a “public figure,” but I’ve micro-experienced being on the receiving end of such speculation.

I have had the fortune of being in more than one conversation where someone else is telling me what my reasons for writing a blog are. I have to say, “on record” so to speak, that the fact that there are a number of diverse opinions about why this blog exists means that you can’t all be right.

The truth is that I have written in many of these “month end” posts why I’m writing. So many that I’m not going to bother to link them. They’re always at the end of the month and if you care you can find them very easily.

The other thing that I have noticed is that even though I don’t hear outright criticism too much, people do like to offer why they don’t blog. Usually it has nothing to do with lack of ability or desire, which is the reason that I don’t ice dance along with a host of other activities, but “external” factors.

I think it has to do with our natural competitive nature. When we see someone doing something we need to assert that we are absolutely able to do the same thing, but we can’t and it’s out of our control.

The one that gets me the most is when people say things along the lines of “I’m too busy to blog.” It’s really using that excuse for anything that I don’t understand, but since we’re talking about me I’ll keep it about blogging.

My theory is that saying that you’re “too busy” isn’t completely honest, either with the other person or yourself. Fact is that everyone has options to fill their days; it’s just what they choose to prioritize and are able to accomplish.

Something I will use as an example is my desire to get a dog. I really want one, but as of now am “too busy.” What that really means is that as of now I have things in my life that take priority over a pet. To be a good owner I would have to go home right after work, take the dog on walks, play with it, pay expenses associated with it, etc. Right now those aren’t things that I want to do.

So yes, I am “too busy” to own a dog, but if it was really a priority for me I would cut out other things in my life in order to make it work. So it is the same for everything.

As it is now I enjoy writing this blog and make time for it in my schedule. It is time where I could otherwise be reading, relaxing, exercising, seeing friends, working on my business, etc., but I choose to write.

When another priority shifts then this may fall out of favour, but as of now I’m sticking with it.

A Sober Second Look at Silicon Valley

I, like many other people, have griped about the lack of venture funding in Winnipeg / Manitoba / Canada. Especially compared to the States. For a country with 10% of the population, there isn’t near the same proportion of start-up funding that they have. I can’t believe it’s because there is any difference in quality of people or ideas.

There are some macro reasons and some micro, but we often don’t look at it from the other side. Maybe Silicon Valley is the one out of whack?

I don’t know and it’s up to smarter people than me to debate, but this is a very interesting article that gives a rare perspective of the other side of the dream.

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2014/04/21/the-most-expensive-lottery-ticket-in-the-world/

I don’t think that we should stop working toward a better business environment in Winnipeg, but maybe we should define the goal of what we’re working toward before striking out.

Yale’s New Old Thinking

As promised, here’s the post about Yale B. School’s recent decision to institute forced curve grading.

To start out, I have to say that I’m typically not an “everyone can win” type of person. As I’ve said before, there is plenty of merit in the lessons that can be learned from losing. In this case, however, I believe the framework of there being “winners” and “losers” is baseless and ignorant.

It is my belief that Yale is wrong in their decision for a number of reasons. Now to outline a few…

Firstly, this is a gross misuse of statistics. Just because if given a significant enough sample size, most of the time students’ scores fall on a Bell Curve, doesn’t mean that the concept should be forced to be applied to classes that are not large enough to be statistically significant.

It’s like saying that if your first born is a girl then your next will be a boy. Sure, roughly half the population is female and the other half male, but in a sample size that small, statistics are of no consequence to the individual.

Second point, which I think is the most important, is that knowledge is not limited and/or a finite resource. That is to say that if you learn something, there is nothing preventing me from learning the last thing. It doesn’t even make it more difficult!

So everyone in a class could, conceivably, do very well or very poorly en mass. In a forced curve system, however, this isn’t reflected because all grades are assigned relative to one another. This can make grades misleading, as they are not reflective of actual understanding of the subject, but how well an individual understood compared to his or her classmates.

I think this decision just follows along an older post of mine: That schools don’t treat MBAs as earned degrees rooted in knowledge. They are seen as titles bought and competed for, which I think is absolutely wrong.

MBA grads, or any grads for that matter, should be respected for what they learn. Not forced into arbitrary competitions. Especially in this day and age, everything that I read about is trying to encourage teamwork and supporting one another in business, not fostering inner-office competition. Either those on the ground who are saying this are wrong, or the post-secondary world really is that out of touch.

Education Needs an Overhaul

As it seems to happen, by chance I’ve had more than a few conversations about different aspects of education over the past little while. Not only that, but my recent post about MBA schools not respecting MBAs and the B School at Yale’s decision to force a curve has wound me up to the point that I have to post something.

Education is broken at all levels and needs to be rethought.

I’ve long thought that the restrictive nature of the majority of my childhood education (memorize and repeat) was not conclusive to the the best learning experience to most people. While I was lucky enough to blessed with a pretty good level of recall, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for my peers with different learning styles.

What I want to focus on more is the post-secondary education system, because I think we’re at a breaking point. We need to rethink the structure of a good amount of what is taught in universities and how relevant it is outside of an academic setting.

The first conversation was with a friend who enlightened me about the realities of a post-doctorate. Essentially, many to most of those who are attempting to earn their PhD would like to work in academia, but there are too many graduating and not enough professors retiring, so there is a job shortage. Since there is a shortage, newly-minted PhDs need to stay relevant in their field by research and publishing papers, so they hope to get a post-doctorate position. Hired by a school for a 2ish year contract to research and write, in the hopes of a number of publications.

Being someone who has less than no interest in attempting a PhD at this point, I didn’t know anything about this and the conversation was shocking. Hearing someone speak of earning a PhD in the same flippant nature I would mention my bachelors degree was definitely a surprise.

Not only that, but I instantly started feeling bad for all the PhDs that “don’t make it” so-to-speak. Who earn their degree after a decade or more of hard work, only to find out that there are no jobs for them at schools and therefore they need to do a complete 180 and find a job in industry. Which may be hard because they have spent their entire adult life narrowing their level of expertise to a fine point that may not have much “real-world” application. No offense meant to any PhDs.

The other conversation was with a friend who expressed frustration that people in his field graduation from a fairly rigorous university program, without any skills to actually do the work that they went to school for. In his mind, his company has to do all the training, anyway. In this case the university education is a barrier of entry, but not a indication of skill.

Although these examples are very different, I think that they arise from the same issue: Universities being out of touch with the other 99% of the world.

Contributing to academia at the lowest cost is the goal of most universities, therefore all schools are filled with academics. Those academics write for other academics, while the majority of graduates work in industry and would greatly benefit in learning a few less high-level theories and more practical applications.

I have no regrets pursuing my degree, but from where I’m sitting right now certain vocational schools may have been a pretty good option. Not only that, but I can honestly say that there are very few times that the theories I learned from textbooks have ever come up in one of my jobs.

I think that universities still have a place in society, but there needs to be more of a focus on correctly educating those who don’t plan to continue on with higher-education. And for those who do, some more hope at a job would be nice.

Come back on Thursday to see what I have to say about that Yale thing…

Missing the Most Important “Why”

Simon Sinek’s golden circle and starting with “why” has been a popular framework for a few years now. I enjoy the TED Talk and have try to apply it as much as I can, in a broad sense. Though recent discussions, however, I’ve come to start thinking that while it is a very inspiring talk, and I’m sure his blog gets many more hits than mine, Mr. Sinek may be falling into the trap of reverse-engineering.

It’s easy to cherry-pick great leaders and success stories and point out that they spoke about “why” and not “what” or “how”. His evidence is very hard to refute. All I’m saying is that it’s easy to start at the end and know that those stories are worth telling. The true test is, however, how accurate this theory can be at predicting success.

I would suggest that it’s lacking.

Starting with why is great and all, but when push comes to shove if no one can relate to your why, then it’s worthless. In other words, if you let your freak-flag-fly and no one is saluting, how could you truly be a great leader or a great company? You won’t have anyone selling or buying.

Nope, the first why isn’t why you do things, but rather why those who believe in you (customers, subordinates, on-looking well-wishers) are attracted to you in the first place. That is the single most important message you can broadcast.

Not only this, but a company or leader who is aware of what draws customers / followers in is one of the best predictors of success that I can think of. I’m all about self-awareness and understanding motivations of others, but you have to be prepared for what you find out.

You may have one idea as to why people choose your business over the competitions and hearing something else can be tough. Especially when you own the business. That’s the one think that Mad Men really go right in my eyes; the scenes where clients were told something that is true, but they can’t get past their emotions and egos to use the knowledge to their advantage.

If you can embrace why your loyal fans have chosen you, however, you have the power to keep them and grow. So rather than starting with the “why” from within, it’s likely better to understand the “why” according to others.

Why Do Millennials “Demand” Workplace Flexibility?

Something that I hear or read all the time about Millennials is that we want “flexibility” when it comes to how, when and where we work. While this may be true, I think that the reasons why this is an apparent growing demand should be explored a little bit more.

First, I want to quickly point out that there is no way that only Millennials are asking for more flexibility, I just think that this is the first time a generation hasn’t waited until they’ve had kids before asking for it. We’ve all been in work places where there is no question that a parent gets a level of flexibility when it comes to working around their kid’s schedules. Rightfully so, but it’s worth mentioning none-the-less.

Rather than pursue that tangent, however, I’ll accept the statement that we’re the first generation to ask for more flexible work schedules. What is the reason for this?

Could it be that we’re selfish and lazy? Perhaps, but our overall volunteerism and support of causes may counter that.

Do we just want to slack off when the boss isn’t around? I don’t think that being a slacker is a generational thing, they are everywhere. Looking around at who I know, I don’t think this is the reason either.

What’s never talked about is how the demand for flexibility may be due, in part, to employers themselves. I think that this is a definite possibility.

In world we live in now, more and more employers are able to (and expect to) be able to reach their employees well outside of what would be considered traditional work hours. While this may or may not be acceptable, which is a topic for another day; it’s something that’s happening.

So is it so far-fetched to speculate that this rise in employers’ ability and expectation to access workers outside of work hours could have something to do with the demand to have flexibility within work hours?

Through my employment, I have worked all across the continuum: Rigorous set hours, near limitless flexibility and a few places in-between. I can honestly say that I can see the pros and cons to both, and that when choosing a job it should be a bigger consideration than some people make it.

Be warned that sometimes “flexible work environment” is a euphemism for “always on call” and if you’re not prepared to work like that, it may be best to seek employment elsewhere. At the same time, some jobs will not explain expectations, which could end in dissatisfaction, as well.

Fully understanding how rigorous your potential employer is about work hours can be a very important consideration.

To employers, next time you’re considering an employee’s request regarding the work-day, remember to think about what you demand of them outside of normal business hours.

Kill Business Plans?

Maybe it’s just my feed and the websites I frequent, but there seems to be a growing movement to encourage new businesses to scrap a business plan. While I’ve actually written about how a “business plan” with the structure that the bank wants to see or we learn about in school may not be the answer, I think it’s a disservice to be advocating forgoing the plan entirely.

The major reason that I say this is that typically those who are advocating leaving the plan in the mind of the entrepreneur and barrel forward are those who have seen a level of success in their business. So while it’s good for them that they’ve made it and maybe they never had any sort of plan down on paper (which I would contest in many cases is likely a romantic lie), run-away success stories unfortunately don’t make up the majority of businesses.

I would be more interested to hear from failed business owners who never did any business planning. I wonder what they would say in hindsight. Whether they thought that a bit more planning would have given them a better chance at success or maybe prevented them from taking the leap in the first place.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about business ideas and a large number of them end with a quick Google search and the realization that there are a huge number of companies doing the exact same thing already. Either that or after trying to write down a rough plan for the business (even a one-pager in bullet points) you realize that the idea looks pretty weak at second glance.

Whenever I see an article, Tweet or whatever about how business plans are worthless, I tend to think that the author means in their current form. I couldn’t agree more that a business which doesn’t yet exist trying to forecast five years of sales is a pointless, but the backing information that gives some legitimacy to your assumption that people will buy what you’re planning to sell is never a bad thing. At the very least it can be a thought exercise for you to explore as many aspects of your idea as possible.

So don’t dismiss creating some form of business plan in order to chase the image of being some sort of renegade entrepreneur who doesn’t play by the rules and makes all the right calls from their gut. While planning should never get in the way of action, taking some time to determine the right action to take will go a long way.