Blog Break

Well, I took a bit of a blog break. Believe it or not, writing these posts a couple of times a week takes some effort and thought, which means some times it’s easier and other times it’s harder. Recently it’s been a little more difficult, and I’ve had some other things going on, so it got bumped from the list of “important” things to do. Also, I’m trying harder and harder to keep my mouth shut when I don’t have anything intelligent to say. It’s an uphill battle, but I’m making progress.

However, now the hiatus is done, but I’m easing into it. So Happy Canada Day and more to follow soon!

Impressive Young Entrepreneurs

Last week I was invited to judge high schooler’s business plans and product pitches at the Asper School and was floored. What those young people had been able to do with what I assume is no formal training, along with very little “real world” work experience, was amazing.

Admittedly I don’t know too much about the program they are part of which is supporting them, but regardless of the level a volunteer coach would be able to provide, both the business plans and presentations were very impressive.

What took the cake, though, is two of the three groups that I saw had invented products, invested their own money to create them and turned profit by selling them! Not only that, but they were both thinking of ramping up production and going after supplier-type contracts.

To have a tried and tested product that you’re manufacturing and is making you money before you even graduate is extremely impressive to me. If nothing else these business owners have a great experience which will likely be helpful in many ways in the future.

Well done to everyone part of the challenge.

Two of the businesses were:

The iMug – http://jaimug.wordpress.com/

Lip Bomb – http://lipbalmbrand.wix.com/lipbombbrand

My Surprise With Kijiji

People love Kijiji. I have to admit that I’ve never really done too much with the website. I bought some camera equipment and a mini-fridge over the past 5 years, but that’s about it. That is, until I started trying to sell a few things.

I’ve been trying to get rid of some stuff lately and along with donations and the garbage, I’ve decided to try throwing a few things up for sale online. Turns out that Kijiji is a bad place for someone like me.

I made the mistake of assuming that everyone acts the same way that I do when on the buy/sell website. The few times that I used it I found the item that I wanted, took a look at what it would have cost new, checked out a few competing prices and then made an informed decision about what I was willing to pay.

What I’ve come to find is that’s not how the majority of people operate.

When moving to the “sell” side for the first time I did some research on the items I was looking to get rid of and attached prices that seemed reasonable to me. Yes they were on the higher side of the range, but I was expecting some haggling and wanted the wiggle room.

What I experienced was nothing close to that.

This is only an educated guess, but from what I gather the though process of the average Kijiji buyer is, “Oh, I like <insert item here>. I’m going to completely disregard the asking price as an indicator of what the seller would consider a starting point and offer whatever amount of money is currently in my couch cushions.”

Most offers that I’ve received have been for less than 50% of the asking price, with the lowest being 20%. To me people have to know that they’re just wasting both our time at a point.

What’s worse is the guy who offered 20% of asking price had the balls to get angry when I didn’t send a counter offer. Does he think I’m a jewelry sales person from an all-inclusive beach? I think he finally got the point when I told him that any offer that I would make depends on the quality of the vehicle, not the arbitrary number that he made up.

I know my experience isn’t isolated, because I have heard similar things from friends and family. They took some time to determine a fair price only to be rewarded with insulting offers.

The worst part is the buyers probably don’t realize the harm that they’re doing the system by acting this way. Now that I know people would rather try and undercut huge rather than buy based on value, next time I list something I’m going to inflate the price enormously in hopes of selling the item for what I wanted in the first place.

The saving grace is finding the one or two people who operate like rational humans and negotiating with them. They are usually good to deal with and at the very least seem to be people who actually want the item, rather than trying to make a quick buy to flip it later.

LinkedIn Sucks

Is it just me or has LinkedIn been really crappy for a while now. At the risk (as usual) of sounding like a hypocrite, the things posted on there are terrible. Worthless quotes or info-graphics that get recycled, and usually aren’t too insightful or profound in the first place.

I’m going to to go out on a limb and say that regurgitating some image that you saw someone else in your network posted doesn’t impress too many of you professional contacts. On the contrary, in many cases it could cause annoyance. To me most of the things that I see on there range from uninspiring to ignorant.

So as a friendly suggestion from Uncle Kevy, next time you see that five people have posted the same tired image about how managers and leaders are different, don’t just mindlessly share it. Think about the image and what it’s really saying.

By taking two seconds to think critically, you may realize that the post isn’t that insightful and is just plain wrong. How the attempt to look like an intelligent thought-leader may end up portraying you as a dull sheep.

Women, Men, Leadership, School and Poor Logic

Oh goodness do I hope this comes out right. I really don’t want to misrepresent what I’m thinking and end up offending people.

I can be a pretty harsh critic when I want to be. (Good way to start because I can only offend myself and this likely isn’t surprising to anyone who has spent more than 20 minutes with me.) I like to think that I’m getting better at letting things go, but considering where my baseline was set it may be a little while before I’m at a point that could be considered socially acceptable.

That being said, the one thing that I just can’t shake is poor logic. Especially when it’s someone who is publicly talking out of both sides of their mouth, which I guess is why I have such a love/hate relationship with politics.

The reason for the hesitation at the beginning of this post is that I think I have a sound argument about how logic was misapplied in a situation, but the argument is related to a contentious subject and I don’t want to appear to be criticizing the conclusion itself. Only how it was reached in this particular situation.

Just to get it out there, the point that was being made is that women shouldn’t be underrepresented in leadership positions WHICH I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH. There is no good reason the numbers are where they are and only an idiot would argue with the hard facts, which are clearly out there.

Now that you know my unwavering stance, please don’t tar and feather me. This is only a criticism of an individual and how they reached that conclusion.

I was listening to the radio and the guest on the show was a researcher who was speaking about his body of work, which consisted of comparing school grades of boys and girls as far back as about 50 years. In his study the evidence is clear that girls outperform boys in school.

I haven’t seen the study, but that’s ok. I take his word for it.

He then went on to draw the conclusion that it’s clear that women should be at least equal to men in terms of leadership positions and the fact that they’re not is because men control the “entire system,” which I would concede that there is truth to that statement. I do think, however, he didn’t do a good job of linking his research to his conclusion.

Here is what I would like to have heard about:

First, and what is likely the most fundamental thing, is that there should be mention of a proven correlation between a successful leader and good grades. Controlling the study shouldn’t be hard, just separate the data by gender. Are the females with better grades more likely to become leaders? The males?

Without that link then they are just two sets of data that only have one proven thing in common: They compare genders. That’s like saying that on average girls get better grades than boys, which explains why more women than men are capable of childbirth. Both are factually true, but not necessarily related.

What bothers me even more is that “the system” is to blame for women being underrepresented in leadership roles, but is completely omitted as a possible explanation as to why girls outperform boys in school.

I’m not saying this in order to detract from the accomplishments of girls in school, nor men in leadership positions. All of the above have had to work to accomplish what they have, by-in-large. It may also be worth mentioning that so far my life has charted as being pretty typical of an average female. I did well in grade school and am definitely not in a leadership position.

It may be worth exploring the idea that as much business may be an old boys club, maybe education is a young girls club? Considering the influence of women in education, who make up the majority of teachers and the large majority of early years teachers (where a student’s relationship with the school system is established) there is likely a case that as much as women in later years are inhibited the system, boys are in the early years.

All of this to say that the systems need to change. The same way that a woman should never be told that men make better leaders, boys should not be constantly reminded that girls are better students. We should acknowledge that there are different styles of both leaders and students, none better than the other, and it’s these differences that makes working together (at school or in an office) worthwhile.

So to reiterate:

Women underrepresented in leadership – BAD

Boys being told they’re not smart – BAD

Sloppy or outright deceiving research – VERY BAD

Just in case I haven’t said it enough, I hope that I’m not coming off as some sort of misogynist. If you look at the women I have had the good fortune of dating and/or have had friendships with, you can definitely see I’m a big fan of strong women.

All that being said, I know that I have no right determining how people react to this and if there is something overtly offensive I want to know and apologize in advance.

My Theory on Escalators

I have a theory about escalators and those who use them. If you’ve ever been on, or near, and escalator with me you’ve probably heard this theory. And if you’ve been near one with me more than once you’ve probably heard the theory more than once.

I like to think that the inventor of the escalator had the best of intentions when he or she went about it. They imagined a world where people could get where they were going faster and was able to be more efficient. Same goes for those moving sidewalks in airports.

But then the end users got at the product, and the entire concept was flipped sideways.

Now escalators are used, at best, to be mini-vacations during the day. At worst they’re just another modern invention that is allowing us to be lazy and slowly putting us in an early grave.

Rather than continuing to walk once on the magical moving stairways, most pedestrians come to a grinding halt. Often travelling up slower than if they had just taken the stairs in the first place. And don’t get me started about taking the escalator down. That’s basically like admitting that gravity isn’t enough assistance for you.

Although this little origin story is likely completely fictitious, I seem to have learned a couple lessons from it, regardless.

First, while you may design, build, create or otherwise will into existence something, you will never really know how people will use it until it’s out in the world. I also learned this from Snap It. Apparently if you give a drunken person a button at about waist height, it is very tempting to try and kick it.

To those reading, please don’t kick my button. It really pushes my buttons.

The second lesson is that if you can create something that allows people to be as lazy as possible, then you likely have a winner on your hands.

Everyone Says We Should Support Entrepreneurs, But…

Supporting entrepreneurship should be more than a check-box on the list of talking points for public officials.

It seems like advocating for small business is a must have on any platform presented to the public, political or otherwise, but unfortunately that’s where the talk ends; at talk. Not only that, but it seems to stop at the exact same sentence for everyone. Something about needing a “Strong and robust economy where we support our entrepreneurs.”

No one has any plans, let alone any action to back it up. They win some points from the public for saying it, and then move on to something else. It’s time to put an end to the lame lip service.

I know that there are some existing supports, but let me tell you a little about them.

I’m not 100% in this world, but I have taken some time to research and try to apply for some grants. What I have found is that no one will return my calls or emails, and the process is unnecessarily complicated.

While I have a long list of criticisms, the one that I want to point out is that many of the grants or other programs require application and approval before any work on the business is started. How are we supporting entrepreneurs by telling them to come up with an idea, do piles of paper work, wait and then probably not get the money in the end?

In the case of my business, from conception to first client there was about 2 weeks. Was I supposed to say no to our first client because I couldn’t spend any money developing the product because I was waiting to hear back from the province on a grant I had applied for?

Obviously the designers and facilitators of these programs have never started a business.

This fact is the biggest short-coming, in my mind. While I’m sure they’re all nice people, I can’t see how being an employee for your entire career, or a career bureaucrat for that matter, qualifies you to tell business starters how they should operate or what they need.

What’s more, it always seems like the idea of what an entrepreneur “is” is way off base. Most entrepreneurs aren’t university drop outs that have low living expenses and can live with mom and dad. The average age of first time business starters is around 40 and 60% of them have at least one child. 10 more facts are listed here.

In the end we have misinformed people running poorly developed programs.

I do have to say that there are some who have success with grants and other government programs: Large businesses which have learned how to skirt the rules enough to access the money.

Helping entrepreneurs indeed. Rant off.

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.