Black Panther – something I’m looking forward to!

Yes, I’m a programmer and full stack developer, speaker, etc, but… at TAMU I minored in history. One of my focus areas was African history (the continent. Think 1000+ years of history.) Thus I’m really looking forward to watching Black Panther.

Let me count the ways:

First – I’ve heard it is a GREAT movie.

Second – I’m hoping to learn more from what is hopefully a historically “aware” science fiction movie that will open minds to the richness and culture. We must learn from our origin.

Prince was a Trickster

Prince was a trickster, the best kind of god for social scientists and apparently the verge agrees as well. There are numerous books on this, the last I read was called Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art.

Tricksters have always been with us

Are they tricksters or merely pranksters? That is up to you to discern, but that is the point, right? They stole the sun and the moon while we “took the time to watch the flowers in the garden” while doing yoga.

As one review of the book Trickster by Lleu Christophe points out

Hyde gives equal time to the Native American Coyote, the Chinese Monkey King and India’s Krishna. At first glance, these characters are merely pranksters; humorous, sometimes annoying and occasionally dangerous ne’er do wells who disrupt the normal flow of things. As the title of this book suggests, Hyde believes tricksters are much more than this. He makes a convincing case that tricksters are essential in both preserving and transforming societies. Without their disruptions, cultural stagnation would result. He points out that tricksters can either help to maintain the status quo or bring about radical transformation.

To quote two of my favorite tricksters, Pablo Picasso and DuChamp,

Everything you can imagine is real. – Pablo Picasso

Now to quote DuChamp, an artist who “refused to repeat himself”, now that is a challenge. Every quote is subjectively abrogated by another quote from the past or the future like the a religious text – was it situationally appropriate? DuChamp stated this himself.

I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste. – Marcel Duchamp

To ponder that, if a trickster’s response is situationally appropriate is in and of itself a huge trick. Did in fact the Raven steal the sun and the moon, one, or both? Perhaps more importantly, we all know that Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole.

As for DuChamp, you can reinvent, but it takes energy to constantly come up with a unique identity. DuChamp still needed a vehicle to wrap the thread around, a thread to follow back out of the woods if he got lost.

To begin to understand Duchamp takes someone way smarter than me. I choose to view his work like the bobbin of time.  We are just the blameless victim of observation. Maybe the thread broke, or maybe thread did not break. At least a cat didn’t die in the discovery process. right? Regardless like the genius before his time that he was, Duchamp gave us Rrose Sélavy to at least provide one example guide, like the math equations with odd numbers solved in the back of our calculus books, so that we might oddly enough, solve the evens.


These threads are strings. The strings are wrapped around bobbins of tricks and truth. And these bobbins are not the tiny bobbins that went in your parents’ sewing machines. These strings are the messy bobbins of someone working a weave. The bobbins are large with varied widths and inconsistencies from the vagaries of human behavior and therefore our resulting inconsistent craftsmanship.

bobbins for weaving
weaving bobbins

Damn the Industrial Revolution! Of course ManRay was there for DuChamp to accommodate the birth of the DuChamp’s trickster alter ego – Rrose Sélavy:

Rrose Sélavy, the feminine alter ego created by Marcel Duchamp, is one of the most complex and pervasive pieces in the enigmatic puzzle of the artist’s oeuvre. She first emerged in portraits made by the photographer Man Ray in New York in the early 1920s, when Duchamp and Man Ray were collaborating on a number of conceptual photographic works. Rrose Sélavy lived on as the person to whom Duchamp attributed specific works of art, Readymades, puns, and writings throughout his career.

Is the Trickster dead? Well one of the greatest tricksters of all time, we just lost in Prince.  I must point out the brilliance: Die Antwood, the collaboration between  “rappers Ninja and Yolandi Visser (often stylized as Vi$$er) and DJ Hi-Tek” (source)

To get a straight stand alone “test-of-time quote” from DuChamp I imagine would be like  trying to get a straight answer from Die Antwood, some of the most brilliant tricksters to emerge in years.. Their collaboration makes no sense, until you realize they’re fucking with you.

They. Are. Fucking. With. You.


And the most guilty of all, of fucking with us, is Prince. So let’s go crazy because he already predicted it. Partying like it’s 1999 was stolen from us by a bunch of computer nerds warning about the two-digit date big. We have NEVER partied like it was 1999.

You know what we can do? We can and should go crazy. If you aren’t already there yet, join us, because we look the same as you, act the same, obey the law and act ethically, but I am told there is an ethos that emerges when you “go crazy”. I don’t know, I’m not there yet, but it is a worthy topic of discussion.

Lyrics to Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy from


Falling Behind?

Hey I'm Jamie

From: Falling behind? by Jamie Varon

But, honestly, here’s the thing that nobody really talks about when it comes to success and motivation and willpower and

goals and productivity and all those little buzzwords that have come into popularity: you are as you are until you’re not.

You change when you want to change. You put your ideas into action in the timing that is best. That’s just how it happens.

falling behind
Jamie Varon on falling behind in life

And what I think we all need more than anything is this: permission to be wherever the fuck we are when we’re there.

You’re not a robot. You can’t just conjure up motivation when you don’t have it.


There’s a magic beyond us that works in ways we can’t understand. We can’t game it. We can’t 10-point list it. We can’t control it. We have to just let it be, to take a fucking step back for a moment, stop beating ourselves up into oblivion, and to let the cogs turn as they will. One day, this moment will make sense. Trust that.

Give yourself permission to trust that.

Full post on Medium by Jamie Varon is here:

Jamie Varon is a writer based out of Los Angeles. You can connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and at her Facebook page. Because we all need candid smart and fearless thinkers in our lives. This one impresses me.


The burden of communication is on the communicator; not the recipient.

Therefore proper email etiquette is to use strong subject lines, links, numbered lists and reasonably short paragraphs. Use these guidelines on how to write a decent email that might actually produce results.

Seals at La Jolla in California
Seals at La Jolla in California
Specifically emails must use:
  1. Email Subject Lines – all emails need a well articulated and relevant Subject Line.
    1. Examples of good email subject lines:
      1. Client X going live on Tuesday July 29 before Friday Board Meeting
      2. Training help file on email etiquette posted on
      3. Feast with the Beast Presale Facebook AD text (sent to the zoo)
    2. Bad subject lines torture your coworkers with anxiety which lowers morale and greatly reduces profitability.
    3. Every time an email is sent with a bad subject line, a baby seal dies. This is sad. Save the baby seals! Use good subject lines!
  2. Links – ease of use changes behavior.
    1. Ease of use changes behavior. Without links people will NOT click through to see the work that has been done.
    2. It is rare that an email goes out that is truly not about SOMETHING that should be linked. Yes exceptions occur, but they are rare exceptions.
    3. It is not your coworker’s responsibility to overcome your unwillingness to copy/paste a link from a site you are probably looking at when you sent the email!
    4. Every time an email is sent without a link, a baby seal dies. This is sad. Save the baby seals! Use links!
  3. Numbered Lists – organize the information
    1. Bulleted lists are evil because they do NOT convey priority by the sender. Yet the recipient invariably starts at the top assuming this is in fact the top priority.
    2. The value of forcing yourself to use numbered lists is that the sender (you) must organize your thoughts before confusing everyone else. It has been my experience that most people do not “order” bulleted lists but numbering makes them think about it.
    3. Raise your hand if you like numbered lists! Now raise your other hand so things balance out. Or to put it another way – be kind to people who need this structure. It benefits you if people understand your message. Embrace diversity including “diversity of types of thinkers.” Structure and prioritize your content.
  4. Use Short Paragraphs – with rare exceptions
    1. Shorter paragraphs with strong subject sentences greatly increase reading comprehension.
    2. Speed readers tend to read the first sentence of a paragraph and use that to make a decision if they should bother reading the rest. Shorter paragraphs means more of your message is consumed regardless.
    3. They force you to organize your thoughts before wasting everyone else’s time!
  5. Don’t use Nickel words – save them for scrabble
    1. To repeat – the burden of communication is on the communicator, including in email, not the recipient. While it is possible to write in tongues, this needlessly reduces comprehension.
    2. But don’t oversimplify an email as that just make it more confusing. Just make it as simple as possible and no simpler.
    3. If you must use an idiosyncratic word – well – LINK IT!
We all value our time. You do. I do. Everyone does. So it frequently seems expedient to send an email quickly without thought. The problem is the person receiving these emails might be receiving 500 emails a day and there is no way to Get Things Done without more data.
For example assuming you – not putting a decent subject line – costs each recipient 1 extra minute of time to comprehend (if they give you this minute), then an email that saved you 1 minute, just cost a company of 30 people 29 minutes of billable time. This is very real money. And these are very real emotions on the part of the recipient.
Don’t be mean; take the time to write decent emails.
[Note: this was an internal company help file for years, I probably wrote it around 2002 or 2003. This is just me reposting it for public consumption.]

things changed between triple crowns

The digital divide is not only between the digital natives and the elders, between the digitally enhanced and the not, between the glassholes and the blind, but also over time. There is a time we cannot imagine anymore and those from the past could not imagine accurately the future. Hence our (my?) love of Steampunk, historical visions of the future (past).


The big divide occurred when a third “item to be carried at all times” was introduced, an idea that I cannot properly attribute as it has sunk into our consciousness so deeply the origin is now a mystery.  The third item? The first two “items to be carried at all times” being (1) something of value (cash) and (2) a method of accessing something of value (key, credit card, secret code). Every human has had these two on their person at all times without fail since the great leap forward, to quote Guns, Germs and Steel.

Within 25 years it has changed entirely. Now we all have a third item. (3) Our communicator from Star Trek. We all carry a mobile device.

More importantly, these devices don’t just facilitate communication; they change how we interact at a systemic experiential level. We didn’t just watch American Pharoah (sic) win the Triple Crown, we recorded every second of American Pharoah trotting around Belmont Park. Because…

“If you don’t have a pic, it didn’t happen.” – anonymous

Further irony? Here in meta-meta-meta-land, I took a picture of the HD TV of people taking video and pictures as American Pharoah’s victorious Triple Crown bid was broadcast into my living room. Then combined it with an image from google image search on my mobile device while waiting at a restaurant. To capture the right image I used a Tivo (now a generic word like Kleenex) to rewind and jump forward prior to the start of the race for half of this cell-phone-crowd-picture I first posted on Instagram.

Here is to history and a wonderful victory for American Pharoah winning the triple crown after a 17 year drought. And here is to the amazing human which adapts and evolves in front of our eyes in real time. We don’t have hover-boards, but the revolution is here and indeed it will be televised; on

Now get out there and record something and post it to prove it happened and let your devices consume you. Because that is the future. It’s your destiny kid.

human or systemic resistance to sharing knowledge

“The biggest impediment,” the commission warned, “is the human or systemic resitance to sharing information.” … “Intelligence should be processed… according to the same quality standards”

From “Garland terror case highlights intelligence-sharing impediments”, Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2015

micro blogs – telling a story on a dime

I have the privilege, although lately I’ve had my head in the code more than the pr and marketing side of the business, of speaking to communications groups on the power of social media. You can thank my PR team for that really, although the content and delivery have to meet professional levels or they wouldn’t ask me back. But I have help with that too. The myth of the solopreneur is just that – a myth.

This year’s public speaking in particular has been strange but amazing having been invited to the IABC International Conference and now speaking at the PRSA International Conference in San Francisco. Part of me knows I have content great relevant qnd can deliver it and save professionals hundreds of hours of time if they attend. Just seeing the data from 500 clients go by like the matrix you pick up on trends others don’t see. I have that privilege thanks to the work of my team. Yet it is still surreal.

Yet you should come. The PRSA International conference is Saturday through Tuesday in San Francisco. And my session is on Tuesday. Specifically I am speaking on Micro Blogs. The official description is:

Micro Blogs: How to Tell a Story on a Dime
Discover the next trend in micro blogging.
Learn the best ways to tell your story on micro blogs.
Learn the ins and outs of the hottest micro blogging platforms and discuss their brand storytelling potential.

There is an irony that the talk description doesn’t include a photo given all of relevant microblogs IMHO are visual focused. Yes there is twitter, but even the stats on twitter show that tweets with linked photos are much more popular. And I have to admit I am more likely to post to Instagram than twitter these days. You can’t describe a Lady Gaga Votive Candle and the correlation to DjangoDocs as easily as you can show it.

If you are going to be at the PRSA International Conference in San Francisco this weekend through Tuesday, please stop by by session. And I’ll be attending (not speaking as I’ll be exhausted, just attending) the San Francisco Netsquared Meeetup on Net Neutrality on Tuesday evening October 16th. Mainly so I can heckle @thisisnotapril cause I miss her.

gdrive on the mac refuses to let you change the associated account

Ah google drive. Not exactly a Drop Box killer in any way, but with the conversion of google docs to the google drive many of us inherited it if we wanted it or not.

The first strike against this new imposition of gdrive rules is that apparently it doesn’t work so well with Google’s own Cloud Connect Product which integrates with Microsoft Office. But that wasn’t our particular problem with gdrive this evening. My problem with gdrive was that I was trying to cascade a laptop to one of my sons and it refused to let him log into the Gdrive with his gmail address. Even though all traces of the former owner had been removed, or so I thought…. (yes we uninstalled, reinstalled, Chrome, gdrive, rebooted, software updated, etc, etc….)

Mind you this isn’t google apps for business. This is a regular blah@gmail dot com type of email account that is also used for itunes etc. We uninstalled Chrome. Removed my other sons name from anyplace it appeared in System Settings on the Mac (OSX Lion 10.8.3). In particular I was sure to remove the former owner from all services under:

System Preferences / Internet & Wireless / Mail Contacts & Calendars

At this point after uninstalling Chrome and Gdrive both. Reinstalling Gdrive numerous times and changing everyone’s passwords I have been reduced to adding new aliases in my /.bash_profile file and my youngest son is like “Dad, it’s not that big of a deal I can just access it on the web site.” But no….. now I’m ticked.

Here is the error message and then the solution.

And for the search engines the text of the dialog box reads

"Google Drive. The account you entered does not match. Please sign in again with your account to proceed."

The catch is that account doesn’t exist anymore. Google drive was uninstalled as was Chrome. And gmail and web services are working fine on the new account when logged in to the web using Chrome or Firefox. It is JUST the Mac locally installed G Drive that won’t allow access.

The solution cobbled together from various blog posts. Using terminal with a sudo prefix:

sudo cd ~/Library/Application\ Support/Google/Drive

and you will see something like this:

LOCAL:~/Library/Application Support/Google/Drive
[Drive]$ ls -a
. CrashReports lockfile sync_config.db
.. cacerts snapshot.db

Just kill it all. From there is should be a matter of doing

cd ..
sudo rm -rf Drive

and then launching Gdrive on the mac again. This time it should prompt you to login with the new account associated with that computer. I can’t recall if we did a reboot in-between this step or not so consider that as well. And empty your Trash before you reboot because you probably need to do that anyway.

Two side notes learned over the years dealing with the Mac-n-Cheese-version-of-shiny-BSD-Aqua-Unix we call Macs (?rant? POSIX absolutely SHOULD be acceptable in WWF. Grrrrr.).

1) Do not EVER change your primary user admin home directory. Ever. You can change anything else on a Mac, but it will be a living hell trying to find every reference to the home directory baked into the OS. So if you buy a laptop from bob smith and his home directory is ‘bsmith” then either get OK with it, or rebuild the machine.

2) Gdrive, and google docs, are fine for personal use IMHO. So is DropBox. But neither have scaled for us at work even using google apps. Two alternatives I would encourage you to look at for business file sharing and syncing are SpiderOak and SugarSync. We are testing both although I am leaning heavily towards SpiderOak because it is lower cost and has better security. Of course like TrueCrypt or 1Password if you lose your key there is no plan B, but that also means your data is truly secure and you should invest in a lock box at a bank and (gasp) right down the authentication.

I don’t think I am focusing where I need to focus

Focus is a problem of mine. Or rather controlling focus – when I am focused on a subject I am very very focused. This video on meditation has great content from what I heard. And I need to meditate to chill out. Alas, while watching I think my focus was on the wrong thing.


Is it just me?

goldman-sachs’ toxic culture

From the article: Exec slams Goldman Sachs and the original Goldman Sachs Op Ed in the NYT:

“I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it,” wrote Greg Smith on his “last day at Goldman Sachs,” capping 12 years with Wall Street’s gilded firm.


“It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off,” he wrote. “Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as ‘muppets,’ sometimes over internal e-mail.”


When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.

To be fair, here is part of Goldman Sachs response:

In a company of our size, it is not shocking that some people could feel disgruntled. But that does not and should not represent our firm of more than 30,000 people. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. But, it is unfortunate that an individual opinion about Goldman Sachs is amplified in a newspaper and speaks louder than the regular, detailed and intensive feedback you have provided the firm and independent, public surveys of workplace environments.

While we expect you find the words you read today foreign from your own day-to-day experiences, we wanted to remind you what we, as a firm – individually and collectively – think about Goldman Sachs and our client-driven culture.


Toxic cultures are bad. Don’t talk bad about your clients. Business 101 stuff.

youth, ideas, and bureaucratic resistance

kebabI received two very interesting questions from a young man I met several years ago, passing through Houston on the way to some romantic big city (go ahead, get the whole NYC/LA/SanFran/Boulder/places-you-can’t-eat-but-feel-sexy/thing out of your system.) He asked for lunch and had two questions for me:

1) How do you personally influence people to take ownership of your ideas in order to gain support and momentum to implement change?

I’m going to try to answer that one in a future blog post as my notes for our meeting were a bit too direct for public blogging.

Question number 2!

2) What advice would you give me, a high-energy, optimistic, and idea-generating young guy, operating in a inefficient, bureaucratic, and change-resistant large corporate company?

Listen. Listen. Listen. For both the employee and the employer, almost all of this tension is eliminated if BOTH groups master the art of listening. So to the questioner, my first question is are both you and your managers TRULY listening to each other? If yes, keep reading. If you aren’t actively listening first then none of this matters. Listening is a beautiful thing. One of my favorite quotes.

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” – Jimi Hendrix

OK, so you are listening. Then here goes a two part answer from different perspectives.

From the Employee perspective:

Q: What advice would you give me, a high-energy, optimistic, and idea-generating young guy, operating in a inefficient, bureaucratic, and change-resistant large corporate company?

An answer for the employee with the company’s best interest at heart perspective:

As a young employee I found great resistance to my ideas. I read like crazy. I love learning from the mistakes of others. But at 25 few 50 year olds wanted to listen. They had 20 years + experience but I believed had been ingrained in 20 years of outdated experience. So I had a problem. I tried. I pleaded my case. I used logic. No luck. I was a very frustrated employee trying to do the best for the corporation.

I found three magic solutions that worked for me.

1) Accept the burden of communication and go 100% to make your case.

So you are saying youth is a handicap in getting your ideas heard? Well tough. Deal with it. People have burdens and it is their job to overcome the burdens. And in this case the burden of communication is on YOU. The burden of communication is always on the communicator, not the listener. Have you created visuals to explain your point? Have you done dry-run-explanations to others to practice and prepare to communicate your point? Have you created a prototype to prove you believe in the idea so much you will invest your own time on behalf of the company? If you do those things, and back it up with short but direct facts, most ideas, even in a big bureaucracy will be heard. If you aren’t a good communicator, document your idea and recruit a stronger communicator to make the case for you. Still not enough?

Join Toastmasters. Study Tufte for visual communication. Ask your parents how they would handle it even if you are 35. (Seriously, who else besides your parents has your best interests at heart no matter what?) My point is if you give up on trying to express the idea, well, you didn’t believe in it very much either so why should the higher-ups listen?

They shouldn’t because you are the communicator and you aren’t committed to it. Weak. Man up and accept the burden of communication even if it is a taller order for your age group. Or as Covey says; “Any excuse no matter how valid is still an excuse.”

If your response to the above is “Ed, I promise I did all of that and I’d like to show you what I showed them.” then I’d love to see it. And if it really is a good idea. And you really are fighting for the corporation as you should. And you have exhausted every other option of making your point with data and rationality and visual communication then you do have a few more options. These linger near the line of machiavelli, but they do work and if your goals are pure can be executed ethically.

2) Quote old dead people.

Yes, really. I found so much resistance to my ideas from reading Demming and TQM, and getting Microsoft Certifications before my peers, for my constant study. So I found out pretty quickly that you can overcome the prejudice against youth (it’s there, it really is, and sometimes for good reason) by QUOTING PEOPLE. (It was an Excel file that became a database. True story.)

If I said “I have some ideas that I think the corporate office hasn’t taken into consideration” then my store manager heard a punk-25-year-old saying he knew more than the 60 year old CEO of a multimillion dollar publicly traded company. That wasn’t going to happen. BUUUUUUUT, if I said,

“wow, I really like district-manager-x’s ideas. They remind me of a quote from Total Quality Management on systems defining quality. Like the marble experiment. Can I show you the marble experiment and see if you think it might apply to our problems? I could really use your help and I’m not sure I understand Demming completely. I’m just curious and really want to help the company. Can you help? Meet Thursday?”

– if I did that. I had a shot. It worked. It is true that with a good management team you should not need to do this. You should be able to make your case logically above and beyond politics. But if that fails, you do have a plan B. You get no credit, but the company and therefore you benefit. It ain’t perfect, but it works.

3) Convince someone else it is their idea.

This is manipulative and should be avoided. But if you must, it does work. And it is clearly plan C. And if you are executing plan C either your communication is poor (see “1” above) or you didn’t integrate “2” with “1” above. Or maybe you just have a bad management team. But if you must, here goes.

Find a manager or a “chosen one” among the employees. Take a slightly similar idea or remark they made and emphasize it to make them think the primary idea is their idea. Then reinforce it. Whenever you mention that change it is

“I really like Tracy’s idea to improve the warehouse systems and improve on-time delivery for our customers.”

– this worked for me because I didn’t care who got credit. I wanted my employees working in an efficient system. I owed that to them. If my employees were happy who got credit for the idea was irrelevant to me.

If enough awesome stuff happens AROUND you some of the glory gets applied to your personal brand regardless. So get over your ego and give others credit even if you think you guided them to the point. And isn’t it possible they were already headed that way and your reinforcement just pushed them over? Listening for thoughts aligned with your idea might break YOUR bad habit of not listening too. So, good for all, right?

In modern times with programs like Google Desktop or Copernic, I’d probably search my emails until I found one from a higher up that made a salient point along the same lines and use that as my launching point. And to be fair, quite possibly that executive DID have the idea and the company (YOU!) didn’t execute on it. Regardless, get in front of the cart, give credit to the exec if she is ego driven, and start pulling in the same direction.

Again, who cares? You get no credit, but the company and therefore you benefit.

But to be clear. Using this method in anything other than as a last resort will out you as a manipulative bastard and is a CLD. I recommend you focus on (1) and add a few quotes (2) in your arguments for greater persuasive power.

From the CEO perspective.

If you are close minded in your youth, stop reading now. But let me flip this around and point out that you may not be the only person with a brain and the higher ups may not be fools. So here goes.

Q: What advice would you give me, a high-energy, optimistic, and idea-generating young guy, operating in a inefficient, bureaucratic, and change-resistant large corporate company?

1) Listen

Leaders got there because people are willing to follow them. They are usually right. They inspire confidence. Sadly this can also lead a leader to think their ideas are always the best. They aren’t. Frequently the person closest to the customer has the best data and therefore may make better decisions or have better ideas than you. So listen. Listen carefully and don’t just “hear” the idea, but be sure you “see” the employee and truly “see” what they are proposing.

Take the time. Be respectful. And listen at a level that causes you to almost wince at the intensity. This is hard for me. So I work at it. I try hard to be Mindful.

The exception is if you know an employee has not studied, worked with, has no domain knowledge, and they are emphatically arguing a point they know nothing about (ie haven’t done their homework) then perhaps listening isn’t a good use of your time. Remember, they aren’t your only employee so your time is valuable. The idea might be good but the employee can’t express it.

A derivative of listening is to TELL EMPLOYEES HOW TO TALK TO YOU. Be explicit. For example, I like facts. I tell employees this right up front so I don’t get a fully wishy-washy this-might-work-kind-of-hug-a-thon email. But even if they don’t express the idea perfectly, I still make sure I focus on listening. That is a HUGE part of my job. And it’s fun. It is awesome when you find a diamond in the rough who is willing to take risks within your own ranks. It is truly humbling. And it starts with the leader’s obligation to listen.

2) Second – hire on attitude and intelligence.

A person with the right attitude can learn. It sounds funny, but do NOT hire on skill. Skill is over rated and can be learned. Yes there are exceptions for people who have put in their 10,000 hours of mastery of a subject and those people are very valuable. But if some applicant has 50 hours of learning in technology X you are best to ignore it. 50 hours is insignificant. 50 hours is little more than a week and they might have had a bad teacher. 50 hours of learning and they have a “great idea” and it is probably crap. Maybe not, but probably. Skill is over rated.

No, you should evaluate hires on attitude and intelligence. (And ethics, but ethics are baseline so lets assume evil people are out from the beginning.) Young employees don’t get this. They feel you should hire skills first. But if I wasn’t prevented from discussing HR issues about former employees, I could show them the trail-of-tears of promising people who knew technology but didn’t truly understand the client comes first. Their attitude sucked and it ruined any advantages of their “skills.” Keep toxic people OUT of your company. If they sneak in, fire them fast.

OK, so you’ve hired on attitude and intelligence. Now you have people with the possibility of a decent canvas. In six months, you are wrong. Yup. About half of these folks will start saying things like “we’ve always done it that way” after a mere six months. Yes really. They were “open minded” during the transition, got a partial view of the company, locked on to either a bad process, or a process that needs to change and they fight letting go. First have them read Who Moved My Cheese. Then, sadly, educate or terminate if they can’t adapt.

I have never said “gee, you know, I should have waited a few more months to terminate that guy who is pissing everyone in the company off with his refusal to change, his negative attitude and snide remarks.” Nope. Get the bad eggs out NOW. I don’t care if they are profitable for you as an individual. A strong leader must be willing to terminate their top salesperson if that salesperson doesn’t live up to the company vision, mission, values and honor code. The collateral damage is greater than what they bring in. Get the negative-nelly’s out and your profit WILL go up. Maybe not this month, but it WILL go up when the bad karma is gone.

2) Understand that Change is Risk

You now have just the good eggs. Good. Yet they still resist and fear change. That is human nature. And it is HEALTHY. Remember that change is risk and if our ancestors all decided that storing water in lead pots was a good idea we’d all have lead poisoning and crooked spines. Change is risk. It is healthy and natural for people to resist risk. Thus it is up to you the leader to make the case. THIS IS YOUR JOB AS A LEADER. If this fails, it is your fault.

As far as convincing people, younger employees have the most energy but also have a lot of trouble with change. While they think they are more flexible, this has not been my experience. They do things differently, but are locked in to these “different” ways just as much as your team is locked into their “different ways.” Experienced people have seen change before and frequently adapt more willingly.

Millennials want to know EVERY reason for a change to be bought in. In fact they challenge you with

“OK, but just explain to me all of the reasons why we are doing this?”

The leading “OK” means they think it is a negotiation. And frankly to a CEO it is a request to brain dump 25 years of business experience so they can feel better about your decision. And they couldn’t consume the info that fast anyway. (Nero meet Morpheous. It took you a while to beat him in the arena.) This transfer of knowledge might be a great conversation while you pay them to listen to you for months on end, yet they don’t believe you anyway until they relearn the same lessons. That is no way to run a business. That is how to raise a child, but it isn’t how to make a profit.

As a leader you make the best call with the data you have. And you never have enough data. And the employees work for you. Sometimes you just have to be like Nike and say “Just do it.” The employees that can’t handle it will be the same ones who fold in a crisis anyway so best to have them gone too. (sorry, but it’s true.)

For a loyal employee, try saying “Trust me on this one. Put your shoulder into it 100% and lets talk about it after the plan is implemented. I believe you will see then.”

For the pups – try explaining. I typically try asking

“So you are pretty smart and a great employee now. Right? If you were debating with yourself, current-you debating you+20+years, who would be smarter?”

Of course they say “well, future me is just as smart but with more experience so they are probably right.”

Now, if I am feeling sarcastic, I say “so just how amazingly much stupid-er must I have been at your age for me+20+years to be less knowledgeable than you right now?” I don’t mean it disrespectfully, and save this for the really belligerent-you-are-thinking-of-firing-them employees. But it is a shock-treatment that just MIGHT save you a truly valuable employee who can’t see through the fog. And YES, it is better to shock an employee with potential than lose them.

If you are a weak leader you can just let them walk. But I’d rather try hard to get them to see the light before letting them go. They have to fight for the company. But YOU also have to FIGHT FOR THEM! And sometimes that includes tough-love I guess.

The bottom line  if you lose someone is that IT IS YOUR FAULT. You are the leader. You controlled the hiring. You controlled the training. You controlled the leadership. You controlled the management. The one thing you absolutely can NOT do is blame the employee. Nope. It is your fault. If you made the mistake you still have to fix it. But no excuses. LISTEN TO THEM! Who knows, the young bucks idea might be your next million dollar product!

Closing thoughts

This is a natural tension between younger employees, businesses, leaders and knowledge. It’s OK. The key for the employees and the leaders both, the one thing that will reduce this tension 90%, is to first master the art of listening.

Your question, to the young man who asked me, was specific. I gave you specific answers. But as I said at the top, my one wish is that all of us would listen to each other more. If we listen. If we “see you” and truly “hear” your idea, much of this tension dissolves like sugar in water. And you have indeed made a brilliant cup of lemonade.

the guilt of a confessed pre-prayer

Guilt. Guilt is a major factor for me. It is something we Catholics specialize in. Sin is human. You must confess your sins. This is ingrained in you. mary and jesusYou step out of the confessional and you glance at a young woman in your seventh grade class and her breasts are pressing up against her blouse, purchased by her parents a year before she bloomed, not replaced because it was all they could afford, nicely pressed of course, and seventh-grade-you notices perhaps too much. This is followed quickly by the realization that “damnit, now I have to get back in line. shit. it’ll have to wait until next week when we all wait in the freezing church on a wednesday morning in connecticut for confession.” And you prayed. Not to be forgiven for looking at breasts. No, you prayed that next week would not be a week when the Monsignor was working the confessional. The girls in your class were probably just as curious, although all parties too innocent to ever verify any of that. But the Monsignor, while a good and blessed man (see what I did there) did not seem so innocent on these matters. No, in fact he scared the ever living shit out of us. Me in particular I believed. I knew.

I killed time waiting for my turn in confession (never go first. you don’t want a fresh and energetic priest. you want a tired-and-i-wanna-go-back-to-the-rectory-priest) by pre-saying my prayers. I mean, I had time. You knew it was going to be some combination of Hail Mary’s (mostly) a few Our Fathers (the old-reliable) and if you were particularly bad you would get an Apostles’ Creed. And the prayers were doled out as if they were the same. (For the record, they are NOT. To say a Hail Mary, even speed-talking in your little brain can easily take 20 minutes. So the penance of “Say five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys” kind of made you mad at the lady of the house.) But back to the point. I never asked if pre-saying prayers for penance counted because I didn’t want to know. I figured nobody ever told me that pre-praying explicitly was not allowed. Surely every other kid had thought of it, right? So I ran with it. I pre-prayed. This worked well and sometimes reduced post-confessional-penance to one or two prayers. I thought this must impress my teachers because they would think I was a really good kid so the priest didn’t give me much of a penance. Who doesn’t like the kid who got one Our Father and could scoot?

But I felt guilty about it.

You get over it.

No, actually you don’t.

Guilt is permanent.

Bless me Father for I have sinned….


easy to fall into negativity

From Meg’s post “Girl”:

I told the girls that it is easy to fall into negativity, I told them that this is often something I am guilty of. I get frustrated with people. The first instinct we have to vent. Although every now and then we need to get it out there, venting doesn’t really help. When we vocalize that negativity, it spreads.

For those keeping score, mark me down as “guilty” on this one. I wish it wasn’t true, perhaps we all do it, but I disappoint myself frequently.

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.