i just want to be your friend

“I just want to be your friend.” – Blinky

Blinkyâ„¢ from Ruairi Robinson on Vimeo.

Soon every home will have a robot helper.

Don’t worry.

It’s perfectly safe.

Written, Directed & Edited by Ruairi Robinson

Starring Max Records from “Where The Wild Things Are”.

Cinematography by Macgregor

Music by Ólafur Arnalds courtesy of Erased Tapes

Funded by Bord Scannán na hÉireann / Irish film Board

Texas to reduce public education funding by $8.8 billion in 2012-13

The vote took under 20 minutes, without any debate among members, and resulted in 18-7 in favor. The (Texas) House budget proposes reductions in two major areas: public education funding by $8.8 billion and health care by $16 billion. For the 2010-11 biennium, public education received $50 billion and health care received $65 billion.

Appropriations committee chairman and author of the bill Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said budget writers tried to minimize cuts, but they were inevitable because education and health care comprise a large portion of the budget.

Former House member and LBJ School (UT Austin) lecturer Sherri Greenberg said the cuts of both areas are so high because they make up more than half of the budget combined.

“If the desire of the leadership is to have a bill with no new revenue, you need to [cut] where the big dollars are,” Greenberg said. “Forty percent of that is public education and another 30 percent is health and human services, and a bulk of that is Medicaid. That’s the math.”

March 27, 2011, 82nd Texas Legislature from the Daily Texan

If I did my math right, we are reducing education funding from 50 Billion to 41.2B. The author of the bill, Rep Jim Pitts, Republican-Waxahachie describes it as “the right thing to do for our economy and for the people of Texas.”

I was going to get a pull-quote from little Johnny, but apparently he still can’t read.


inspiration comes and goes apparently

I don’t particularly consider myself an artist, or even a photographer. What I do know is even at an amateur level creative inspiration comes and goes. And it is definitely checked out of the building right now. So here is a photo of Christie from a few month ago. Cause I got nuthin new. And I have zero desire to create anything new. Kinda weird, but there it is.

I’ll keep going through the motions.

YOU should go and create something.

Please, go save the cheerleader.


what are people paid for?

New post on Chron.com on What Are People Paid For? This is a cross-post so please comment on the Chron site if interested.


Ed Schipul

Two questions I like to ask in the interview process are below. (Oh don’t worry, most job applicants don’t take the time to google things like “schipul interview questions” so I’m pretty sure I’m not giving anything away.)

The first question is quite simple:

What is the goal of business?

The answer is simple:

To make money.

Now before you run me out of town on suspicion of being a citi-group-harvard-educated-asset-denuding-specialist, I’d like to differentiate between a business and the leadership. A business is a cold-hearted piece of paper that lives and dies on the oxygen of money. This does NOT mean the leadership can behave themselves in an unethical way. It just means that the business itself lacks a soul and that the soul must be transplanted in through ethical leadership and ethical employees working to create “greater value than cost” for clients. And the business must make a profit or at some point it will fail. And we all would lose our jobs. That sucks. Thus profit is good.

I would say about 50% of the applicants get the “what is the goal of business?” question correct. 25% say it out right. (I like that group.) 25% say it apologetically like they are embarrassed to admit they like money. (Baroo? Ya, check it. Money is awesome.) And 50% of the applicants just ramble on about “providing a service” and “interacting with customers” and “making management happy” and blah blah. For those applicants I always wonder “gee, are they going to work for us for free?” Yes take care of the customer, but you have to make a profit or you aren’t a business, are you? You can do both.

Regardless of the answer to the “what is the goal of business” question I always explain the correct answer and why. I wish someone explained that to me when I graduated from TAMU with stars in my eyes and a political science degree, bent on saving the world. (Then life happened. Now I’m a capitalist. Harumph. I’ll get another go at it when I retire.)

Regarding social responsibility I highly recommend reading James O’Toole on “The Ethics of Human Capital.” From the article:

I believe it can be argued reasonably that the creation of an ethical corporate culture is the prime role, task, and responsibility of a virtuous leader. For that to be the case, an ethical corporate culture would be defined as one in which all the stakeholders of an organization are treated with due respect. That is, the legitimate needs of customers, owners, suppliers, host communities, and employees would be both acknowledged and addressed by an organization. – James O’Toole

The second question I like to ask? It’s about compensation. It is:

What are people paid for?

I’ve never had an applicant get this one fully right. They usually respond with “taking care of the customer.” And I ask “so everyone in customer support at Amazon makes exactly the same?” They say “No.” I ask “Why?” and nobody gets it. My response is below (Note: I googled it extensively but can’t find the original source. This is my interpretation and if you know the source please tell me?)
Blue Acrobat at OVO! by Cirque de Soleil in Houston

What are people paid for? People in a business are paid for two things; responsibility and expectations.

  1. People are paid first for their level of responsibility.
    1. With power comes responsibility. Responsibility is hard. A manager should usually make more money than their employees. They have more responsibility.
    2. Responsibility does NOT mean strictly “management.” We have some awesome employees with huge amounts of financial or technical responsibility that are compensated for this while they don’t directly manage any “people.”
    3. Level up – organizations should give employees the ability to take on responsibilities that are smaller to prepare them for more responsibility later. Examples are things like managing the training schedule, managing interns, advanced reporting and research to help business decisions, keeping the break room clean, making sure we have paper in the printers. All of these things are responsibilities. If you are above cleaning the coffee pot you won’t work at our shop. (But I get that some people worship MBA’s, I am just not one….)
    4. Most applicants agree that paying people for their responsibility is fair. Tenure is nice, but younger more ambitious employees can and do pass up more senior employees in compensation. That is fair.
  2. People are next paid for “what they are EXPECTED to do.” This one is more complicated. The good news is the employee is in complete control of managing their superiors’ expectations of them. Examples:
    1. Events – Events change expectations.
      1. If your star quarterback just won the super bowl they should be paid quite well next season. But wait! What if the day after winning the super bowl they crash on their motorcycle and shatter their throwing arm in 10 places? Well, then their new pay rate is zero. Harsh, but that one event completely changed your expectation of what they will do next season. To protect the other players and the owners, you can’t pay someone you think isn’t going to do anything the same as someone you think might win the super bowl. (Hopefully football teams take out insurance to take care of their players!)
    2. Tasks – Small tasks EXACTLY equate to bigger tasks. Humans are consistent like that.
      1. If you ask someone to clean the coffee pot and you get a delayed “<pause….> OK” then you can BET that is exactly how they will treat your 100k/year annual account. The applicant will TELL you they will differentiate, but once they settle in, small responsibilities are the best indicator of how they will handle larger responsibilities. An intern who doesn’t want to load the dishwasher to help out on their first day is best fired immediately. Pride is deadly. Servant leadership rules.
    3. Training – consume training like candy.
      1. Training is good for the employee because nobody can ever take knowledge away from you.
      2. It prepares them for greater responsibility (see 1 above)
      3. It means they are ready for new opportunities down the road. “Just in time training” is crap, be trained BEFORE the opportunity happens or else it is just an “event” and not an opportunity at all.
      4. If you don’t know a technology an employer is looking for, invest $30 in yourself and learn all you can at sites like Lynda.com or YouTube. (Side note: last Thanksgiving they asked me to ‘carve the turkey’. Why? Why would you let the guy who doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen ruin the bird on the most important family meal of the year? Luckily, I solved it with training on turkey carving. True story.)
    4. Hard Work and Initiative.
      1. Ideas vs Results – A well meaning employee says “hey I have this great idea for the company!” An employee that you expect will rock the world later has an idea, prototypes it, takes it as far as she can take it without company resources, and then schedules a meeting with you to go over “initial results and research.”
      2. I once had a sales job applicant interview with me and he started the meeting by showing me a six page marketing plan he had developed for the company. He presented it in its entirety and I was floored! Who wouldn’t expect this guy to be a rock star? (Side note: the plan was completely wrong because he didn’t know our revenue model. But WHO CARES?! This guy’s initiative and demonstrated work ethic was unbelievable. Sadly I lost him to a competitor.)
      3. Tabitha, who recently joined the company, set herself apart by doing her entire resume as a pop-up book. A skill she learned by watching YouTube videos in less than a week. THAT is initiative. And I am very glad she joined our team before a competitor hired her!

Compensation is a loaded conversation. Job applicants always have some idea of what they think they should be paid (not what they are “worth” but what they think they should be “paid” – big difference). The ones right out of school are told some industry average, some too high, some too low, by the University. Those numbers don’t add up. And I have yet to talk to an applicant who says “the school told me I should be able to create X value for the corporation. I realize the money paid to me initially is earned by the other workers and I really appreciate them taking a risk on training me.” Ya, that doesn’t happen. Ever.

See? That second question, what are people paid for, is a LOT more complicated. But there is an answer. And YOU are in control of setting expectations of yourself. So in many ways, people are very much in control of their income. They just frequently prefer to hide behind the “management hasn’t promoted me” excuse without working hard to increase their responsibilities and the expectations of what they will do in the future.

I would love your feedback on this post. And despite the last paragraph of my last big post, on this one I welcome your IDEAS! – Thanks!

Chron.com on What Are People Paid For? This is a cross-post so please comment on the Chron site if interested.

pursuing degrees in photography

Such aspirations are founded upon a disingenuous idea – that photography is democratic, and therefore everyone has a fighting, almost entrepreneurial chance to be a leading light in this ‘democratic medium’ – when in fact both these aspirations and the art market are not democratic whatsoever, but are about being the one lifted from the many.

Charlotte Cotton

Managing The Fire-Hose of Ideas

As the company has grown over the years, I have hit a number of tipping points that were unexpected and hurt the company. Bears AttackUnfortunately I have been unable to find a book that predicts these moments accurately and I know few people who have organically grown a 30+ employee 13 year old technology and marketing firm. We’re a bit odd. So while there are many sage leaders in the city of Houston, few have ever been “in my shoes” so to speak and most aren’t really sure what we do. In other words, sometimes I am flying blind and changes are clear only in hind sight. I am having one of those moments now and it involves ideas and a very motivated, skilled, enthusiastic and hard working group of employees.

The problem is ideas. Too many of them.

My management philosophy has always been the same. “Hire good people. Train the hell out of them. Let them run.” There can be problems with this. If you train them and they run off to a field to pick daisies, you fire them. But my experience has been that people are a LOT more motivated when they are given the tools and the freedom to do their jobs.

I once worked at a large corporation where I needed a Vice President’s sign off to get a $30 book I needed to do my job. And I had to write up a justification about why I needed the book. I called it a “pre-book-report” at the time. Anyway, I come from a family that consumes books like other people consume Doritos so this blew my mind. My manager, her boss, the VP and I spent way more than $30 in salaries debating the merits of said book. Most of which was made up because none of us had read it. So while the CEO said we were there to “maximize shareholder values” the rest of us didn’t get the memo. So I kept reading books and just paid for everything I needed out of my own pocket.

And I vowed I wouldn’t cripple my employees that way when years later I started a company.

Back to ideas. Thanks to our clients we get to eat. And we help them make a profit using our technology and processes. Everything is thanks to our clients. They expect and deserve the best possible service at the best possible value that we can deliver. That takes training. And I am committed to training. So far this year we sent 11 people to SXSWi, 2 people to SMX, 2 people to DrupalCon, 2 people to NTEN’s NTC, 2 people to the TSG Summit, 2 people to PyCon, we have 4 scheduled to attend Tufte, etc….  And it’s only March 19! Perhaps I shouldn’t share this because my competitors can see that the secret sauce over here is training. But I’m not that worried as investor led companies tend to maximize profits for the quarter and therefore lack the discipline and will to invest so heavily in training. Particularly if all of those expenses hit you in the same quarter.

Now, all of those employees are back from cities all across the United States and they are walking in to my office with idea after idea. After idea. After idea. And ideas are good. But it’s too much.

This is compounded because ideas are pretty cliche. You can’t patent an idea, you can only patent an implementation of an idea. Ideas only have value when you take action on them. It is results that create value, not ideas. Yet all of us in life want to provide the ideas and have them get done, usually by someone else. And we take it personal when someone shoots our idea down, and people know that, so the more ideas you throw out there the more people nod their heads in agreement. “Why yes, that is a good idea.” And it might be. But we’ll never know unless someone prioritizes it and commits the resources to implement the idea and then evaluates the results.

And some ideas are just bad. For example Ethan Watters expressed these emotions about one idea:

The idea of going to a Shriners meeting and listening to some high school student read her award-winning essay on the value of democracy seemed like an activity that I might encounter in the first ring of hell.

Nothing against the Shriners, but that is an idea that if you told me you were doing that I would say “hmmm, sounds interesting.” Yet I would be thinking: “No, that does NOT sound like a good idea for me and NO I do not want to test that idea.” But I wouldn’t say that.

A few years ago I judged a Tech-Transfer event for MBA students who presented a case on if an academic patent should be commercialized for the university where the research was done. I kid you not – this one patent was for a nanotech etching machine that was less than half the size and more expensive than one that was commercialized and in use in industry. It is hard not to look at that idea, shake your head, and think “was that just some dude who wanted to frame a patent for his wall?” I guess it’s academia so they have more wiggle room, but sheesh. This is an example of a bad idea that wasted time and money.

Testing ideas is expensive.

As a CEO your dream is someone walks up and says

“I had this idea so I prototyped it and the initial results look promising. Can we schedule a time to go over the results?”

And sometimes that happens. It really does. And those people get promoted at our company much faster than others. But more often than not you are presented with an idea like it is a sacred object and expected to immediately commit resources to test it. And there are simply too many ideas. And never enough resources.

(Sidebar: You actually get a LOT of innovation from the sales team (yes really) because they talk to prospects and see actual needs before people who only work with products we already support. Because no one within the company already knows X new product, a sales person with initiative will self install (read: prototype). That is how we started offering WordPress and Drupal as new product lines and THEY ARE GREAT!)

I was pondering the expense of organizing and testing all of these ideas while on a long walk with the dog this morning. A few possible solutions came to mind:

  1. Set up a DIGG type ranking system for idea submission and have employees vote the ideas up or down.
    1. They talk about this a little in Groundswell. But Idunno, I rarely see committees find the best possible idea. They usually blend everything until you get a compromised version of mush. Or whoever can write the best python script wins the vote. I love Amazon reviews, but I rarely write one. Does that mean my ideas don’t have value because I won’t use that particular tool?
  2. Require employees to write-up the idea and present it in an organized fashion at a scheduled time.
    1. This would stop the revolving door in my office of people presenting great ideas. Yet as I recently blogged about visionaries, it is the Eureka moments that lead to big discoveries. I am not sure a global “you must write it up” filter is in the best interest of the company.
  3. Schedule office hours.
    1. This is probably something I should do as a CEO as I am a little too accessible at times which prevents me from getting my work done. But again, will I miss a Eureka moment? What is it that I do that could possibly be more important than working with our employees?
  4. Say “no” to everything.
    1. Saying “no” to everything has actually worked well for me in the past. If the employee  isn’t motivated enough to overcome the first “no” then they aren’t that committed to the idea. Or so goes the thinking. But people are very different culturally. Extroverts ask me the same question 10 times while introverts won’t ask at all! Won’t this method bubble the “squeaky wheel” ideas up to the top? I doubt those are the best ones.
  5. Make them run it by their manager first.
    1. Otherwise known as the “hide behind hierarchy” method. Would this not break the spirit of an employee if they felt the CEO was inaccessible? What if they had an issue with their manager at a personal level, but had a good working relationship, but didn’t want to share? And do I really want to be the type of founder who is unwilling to talk to any employee? The answer to that is a resounding “no!” I spend more time with employees than I do with clients because I know developing our employees is what it takes to get to great customer satisfaction!

I’m at a loss here. I see we have hit this point. I feel like I am drinking from a firehose and I can’t keep up. While ideas alone are worthless, the implementation of a good idea has definite value!

My question to anyone who has made it this far in the post is “do you know of a system that has been tested and works for a CEO of a high growth company to handle employee ideas?” And I specifically do not want ideas. What I need is knowledge of a system that has been tested and works. Even if that system is a behavior modification on my part.



pattern hunter

“The visionary is a pattern hunter. And as the patterns begin to take shape, the visionary paces the hall anxiously, staring out the window. The cognitive dissonance builds between what is and what will be. The visionary’s sense of discomfort grows.”


Science writer Isaac Asimov said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but, ‘That’s funny…'”


“You have to have confidence in nonsense,” says airplane designer Burt Rutan, whose aircraft have circled the globe on a single tank of gas, and have climbed to the edge of space as well.