- My NYPL
Tools and Services
- Using the Library
I am a...
- Classes & Events
- Support the Library
According to a new report, optimism is high in the small business community, cautious though it may be.
Small business owners are feeling far more optimistic than they were a year ago, but they're still holding off on taking major risks.
That's the key finding to The Hartford's annual Small Business Success Study. The financial servicer's survey of more than 2,500 business owners was recently released and was conducted over the summer.
Overall, 48 percent of companies say they are optimistic that the economy will improve in the next year. While not a majority, that's up big time from 33 percent a year ago.
However, an air of caution underlies that figure. While optimism appears to be up, 69 percent of companies said they are not taking any more risks than they were a year ago. Only 16 percent have said they are taking more risks.
And the survey turned up another caveat about that optimistic outlook, showing a stark contrast between younger and older companies. While 64 percent of owners of 1-to-2-year-old companies said they were optimistic, just 36 percent of owners of 40-or-more-year-old companies said the same.
The survey turned up a number of other interesting data points:
- 53 percent of small business owners say their priority is maintaining their company at its current size, compared to just 36 percent who prioritize growth.
- 70 percent of business owners think their company is operating successfully, an incremental improvement from 68 percent last year.
- Only 15 percent would take a job at another company and give up their business, even if they could be guaranteed equal or greater success in that role.
You don't have data and you don't have time. Here's how to make a choice anyway.
In the era of big data, it is wise to wait for all the information before you make a big decision. But sometimes it's time to choose--and the information just isn't there yet.
"During my time at McKinsey, we were often called on to advise a client to make an important decision without the benefit of a lot of data," he writes. "A good example was when a client asked us to evaluate whether it should move into an adjacent, but new, market. We often didn’t know how that market would grow over time, or what kind of market share our client would get in the new market."
Ranadive prescribes three-step process, anchoring them to that example. When you have to make a snap decision, ask yourself the following three questions.
1. What was your day one hypothesis? The idea here is if you put a premium on developing an early hypothesis, "you always have a decision that you can stand behind at any point in time," Ranadive writes. A smart organization puts a premium on how they go about creating this early hypothesis, Ranadive says, by reading whatever they can get their hands on or interviewing industry experts.
2. Do you at least know the general direction this decision will bring you? Along similar lines as point one, you might not know how much you stand to gain or lose by entering a market. But you should probably have a sense for whether you will stand to gain. If you can't make a pinpoint projection but can be what Radavine calls "directionally right," and if that's the only kind of benchmark you have, then you might as well act on it.
3. What do you have to believe for this to be the right choice? In other words, if you decide to go ahead with this idea and based on what you already know, does it have a reasonable chance of actually working out? As an example, Radavine says to suppose in the hypothesis phase you learned that the new market you want to enter has a $250 million market. The mandate, self-imposed or otherwise, that you're working with is that you must be able to capture $50 million within three years. Do the math, and that's 20 percent. Is it reasonable that you can capture 20 percent of this new market by then? If not--there might be other competitors in the space that make it impossible to tell, or you might not have experience entering new markets--you might have to shut this initiative down, at least until you have the data that can better inform your decision.
The Zebra, a Kayak-for-auto-insurance startup, just landed a seed round from, among others, famed investor Mark Cuban. The founder explains how he did it.
It all started with a cold email. Subject line: "Want to disrupt the insurance industry?"
That's the message Adam Lyons sent to Mark Cuban about his new startup The Zebra, a little more than a year ago. Today, having closed a $3 million extended seed round from Cuban, among others, the company is officially launching to the public.
The Zebra is a like Kayak for auto insurance, comparing rates from hundreds of carriers across the country. Lyons (and yes, he does get a lot of jokes about lions and zebras) first conceived of the idea while working in the insurance industry in London, where the vast majority of auto insurance is bought through comparison engines.
"I didn't understand why that didn't exist here in the U.S.," he remembers thinking.
He soon discovered why. Auto insurance, it turns out, is regulated state to state, so a comparison engine would have to take into account each state's regulations. And unlike the airline industry, which has aggregate databases of prices from which sites like Kayak can gather their data, there's no such thing for the auto insurance industry.
In 2012, Lyons founded The Zebra and developed the concept in the Pittsburgh-based accelerator, Alpha Lab. Users can log on, enter some information like their credit score and location (The Zebra doesn't require users to give their names or contact information), and get real-time insurance quotes.
The Big Pitch
Unlike many startup founders, Lyons had no trouble finding willing investors. "We had a lot of options on the table, and it became clear that funding wouldn't be a problem," he says. "When you're starting out, usually the big concern is: can we get money? For us, it became: can we get the right people?"
Cuban, Lyons thought, was the right kind of people, so he sent him an email. "I read every email I get," Cuban says. "I delete 99 percent of them before the end of the first paragraph, but Adam got right to the point, and I liked the concept of Zebra."
Cuban says there are four key criteria he looks for in any startup he's considering investing in:
- a unique product
- a motivated and educated team
- knowledge of the market
- a demonstration that the big dream can work in practice.
"They were already doing the work," Cuban says of Lyons and his team. "It wasn't just a plan. They were already executing on it."
Lyons' emails alone convinced Cuban to invest in The Zebra months before the investor ever met the 26-year-old founder in person. Lyons' secret? "Don't try to get a yes immediately. You're going for a maybe," he says. "You want questions asked. Just be prepared to answer them."
The Zebra previously raised $1.5 million in seed funding, bringing the total seed round to $4.5 million. Among the startup's other investors are Simon Nixon, founder of the financial services price comparison engine MoneySuperMarket, as well as Mike Maples Jr., managing parter of the Floodgate Fund. Lyons plans to use the money to hire 40 insurance agents and additional engineers.
There are still hurdles ahead of The Zebra, namely, Cuban says "getting buy-in from some carriers." Currently, The Zebra has partnered with 22 insurance carriers, so when customers buy insurance from those carriers, The Zebra gets a cut. Still, there are hundreds more carriers out there. And while The Zebra can display quotes, users can't actually buy the insurance through the site, so Lyons is hoping that eventually those larger carriers, who are more hesitant about the service, will come around.
"A lot of companies were really excited, but when you're creating anything that’s disruptive you'll get push back from bigger incumbents," he says. "We're not an insurance company. We're a consumer advocate."
2013 was a banner year for great sales books. Here are my picks for the best of the best.
Last month, I posted the 5 Most Inspirational Books of 2013. Those books provide a foundation for success but (as most of you already realize), it's your ability to sell that will determine if you're truly success.
With that in mind, here are the best of the best sales books that were published last year. All of them are "must reads" for anyone serious about making serious money in business.
Subtitle: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
Author: Daniel H. Pink
Why You Should Read It: While the sample "pitches" Pink gives are fairly dreadful, the main point of this book is that everyone is selling all the time. This observation is crucial to understanding both business specifically and human beings in general.
Best Quote: "Selling in all its dimensions--whether pushing Buicks on a car lot or pitching ideas in a meeting--has changed more in the last ten years than it did over the previous hundred."
Subtitle: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal
Author: Joanne Black
Why You Should Read It: In this easy read, referral-selling expert Black explains how to transcend technology and make connections with real people.
Best Quote: "Even with whisper-light computing power and immediate, 140-character Twitter posts, we are a face-to-face species, one that thrives on interpersonal communication and being in the presence of like-minded individuals."
Subtitle: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service
Author: Lee Cockerell
Why You Should Read It: The reason that most customers give for buying elsewhere is that they got bad customer service. This book explains how to turn service into something that creates new customers, rather than driving away existing ones. It's also an absurdly easy read.
Best Quote: "At the end of the day, everything a business leader does is in the service of customer service."
Subtitle: : The Definitive Guide to Working Less and Making More
Author: Perry Marshall
Why You Should Read It: This is a definitive guide to the way that that the Pareto principle plays itself out in sales and in time management. I've posted about this in the past, but this book really drives the point home.
Best Quote: "If you have 30 customers, you're tempted to treat them all the same. Well, they're not really the same at all. Odds are [that] 20 percent of your business comes from just one of them."
Subtitle: Proven Actions You Must Take to Make Easier, Faster, Bigger Sales....Now and Forever
Author: Jeffrey Gitomer
Why You Should Read It: When it comes to selling, anything by Gitomer is worth reading. This book contains the essence of his current thinking and therefore should be in every sales library.
Best Quote: "Figure out where your value message is with respect to your customer perception of it and their willingness to receive it. Then do the one thing that 95% of salespeople will not do: work your ass off. Today."
Like this post? If so, sign up for the free Sales Source newsletter.
Gilt founder Kevin Ryan advises entrepreneurs to find the best candidates by spending more time on the hiring process.
Better-looking teens get higher grades and grow up to make more money than less-attractive peers, according to a new study.
Good-looking high school students have a great advantage over their less attractive peers in terms of grades and professional success, a new study to be released Friday finds.
According to the study, which pulled from data on 9,000 U.S. high school students from the class of 1994-95 through their 20s and 30s, shows that more attractive teens have higher GPAs and as adults receive higher pay.
The research is published in the report, Physical Attractiveness and the Accumulation of Social and Human Capital in Adolescence and Young Adulthood. The pool of students was a nationally representative sample of 9,000 teens from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and interviewers rated the students' attractiveness, looked at their grade point averages, and conducted multiple interviews through adulthood.
"The attractive do have a GPA advantage (over) the average," sociologist Rachel Gordon of the University of Illinois-Chicago told USA Today.
The study found that the more-attractive students had greater advantages through high school and into their professional career. Gordon says the good-looking teens were on a brighter path to success--they were more likely to receive a college degree and land a better-paying job than their average-looking and "ugly" counterparts.
But the beautiful people also had some disadvantages, Gordon says, which may have a negative impact on grades and health. More attractive high schoolers were found to drink more heavily and have more sexual partners.
Caroline Heldman, an associate professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles familiar with the study, says that a society that values looks may actually harm women shooting for executive positions in business. "Attractive women will get a benefit overall in occupations, but when you're talking about leadership positions, being sexually attractive actually works against you," Heldman told USA Today.
Compared with average-looking teens, the students rated by the researchers as "below average" didn't show an overall disadvantage when it came to grades. But those rated "on the ugly side of looks" were found to have fewer friends and be more depressed than their average-looking peers in high school and through early adulthood.
But what does this mean for entrepreneurs? Jack Dorsey gets a lot of flack for worrying about his looks, but maybe he is on to something. For company founders, consider these findings when you're building up your company. The study could not find an attractive bias with teachers, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility. Earlier studies have found that more attractive professionals get paid more, so make sure an attractive bias isn't informing your business decisions or hiring process.
What do you think? Is there an advantage to being attractive in business? Are all those heartthrob entrepreneurs earning their big bucks? Entreprenseurs like Dorsey and Gauri Nanda, founder of Nanda Home, certainly have the looks, but both also have the brains. Let us know your reaction to this study.
Nothing stays the same in the business world, and sometimes employees have a hard time with that. Here are five ways you can help them roll with whatever comes next.
Mergers, buy-outs, downsizing: These are just a few of the ways in which companies can transform literally overnight. While these moves often help a company remain competitive, they also result in profound changes to organizational structure or other disruptions to the status quo. Helping your employees overcome the anxiety that comes along with such changes can be very challenging.
Here are some ways that you can help:
Take Time to Watch and Listen
If you know changes are looming--and they are for most organizations--take time to watch and listen carefully to your employees. Whether it's a major restructuring or a modification to a well-established procedure, change (or even the anxiety over impending change) can unsettle your employees and negatively impact the workplace. Sometimes employees will express their anxiety directly to you, but other times their anxiety becomes apparent through changes in their behavior or performance. This is especially the case when change threatens their comfortable and stabile routines. Take time to observe and listen to the pulse of your organization, and then take steps to deal with the anxiety that you may detect.
Demonstrate Your Genuine Concern
Great bosses realize that they can't achieve their goals if their people aren't performing at their very best. Employees, especially in times of stress and challenge, look to management for solutions. They seek guidance when they feel uncertain and isolated from organizational decisions that are out of their control. As a first step, be an example of transparency and honesty. Open the lines of communication between management and employees. Talk openly and regularly about what you know, and encourage input. Show you truly care about your people's welfare by understanding their concerns and by doing whatever you can to help them. This not only helps you solve any problems you have direct influence over, but also helps them by allowing them to talk freely about what is troubling them.
Fix What You Can
After hearing concerns and gathering input, fix the things that you have control over. Often, uncertainty results from miscommunication or misunderstandings. If, after listening to your employees, you discover an easy solution to dispel their angst, take the initiative to fix whatever you can as quickly as you can. A reassuring word or guidance from management can have a profoundly positive impact on employees in times of uncertainty. If you find the problems caused by change are beyond your scope, avoid promising your employees things you cannot deliver or have no business promising them in the first place.
Be Positive and Look for Opportunity
Remain positive. Challenge your employees to take initiative and seek out solutions, new ideas, or cost savings. Look at standard procedures and policies and rework them, or propose alternatives with the bottom line in mind. When times are unsettled, it may appear to employees their efforts are not appreciated by management. By encouraging them to take the initiative you help them to keep moving forward, focused on what can or might be done, rather than fixating on events over which they have no control. As a group, come up with creative solutions to the new challenges created by change.
Train and Prepare
If you have the opportunity and the resources, make time available to your employees to learn new skills. Give them an opportunity to prepare for change with more skills or experience. Preparation and training can help them transition more easily into new roles, or look for work in another areas or organizations, should it become a necessity.
While your crystal ball may not be able to tell you exactly what is coming around the corner in 2014, reviewing the steps above so that you can implement them quickly can help everyone cope better with change in the coming year. A little time spent on this now will save you a lot of time later.
Like this post? If so, sign up here and always stay up to date with Peter’s latest thoughts and goings-on.
A Pantene commercial has become the center of a serious conversation about workplace equality.
Why is Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In fame suddenly talking about a shampoo commercial?
The company's #WhipIt initiative focuses on how men and women are portrayed differently for the same behaviors in the workplace.
As Mad World’s "Tears for Fears" somberly plays in the background, one commercial shows scenes of men and women doing the same things but assigns them different labels. The video opens on a man in his office with the word "Boss" floating in the background, followed by a woman in the same setting, only she is "bossy." A man at a podium is "persuasive," a woman, "pushy." A man alone in a dark office is "dedicated," while a woman is "selfish." The ad concludes with the kicker and campaign tagline, "Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine."
Sandberg praised the video advertisement in a post on the social media site. "This is one of the most powerful videos I have ever seen illustrating how when women and men do the same things, they are seen in completely different ways," she wrote. "Really worth watching. Lean In prize of the day for sure!"
Just over a minute long, the video is free of any shampoo bottles or hair products, and although shiny hair has a handful of cameos, it is clear Pantene is hoping to reach its consumers on a different, more emotional level than it would with a conventional ad.
The campaign, which is part of Pantene's Philippines campaign and launched at the end of November, extends beyond a few commercial spots. The Pantene Philippines' Facebook page is rife with posts that promote female empowerment, such as, "Don't hold yourself back. Break the glass ceiling. Be strong and shine," and "Labels can continue to exist...but a woman can choose to redefine them." Pantene, in conjunction with the news site Rappler, has even hosted events as part of the #WhipIt campaign, including a forum where six women shared their experiences overcoming gender discrimination in the workplace. Rappler also will host ongoing discussions on Wednesdays about gender inequality.
Sam Bacharach, director of the Cornell Institute for Workplace Studies, explains that negotiating effectively as a leader is all about preparation.
There's a new digital Gold Rush on, making it an ideal time to change jobs. It's not nearly as risky as it sounds.
I think an end is in sight. The giant sucking sound that accompanied the flood of all the smartest quants, developers, and systems engineers being swept into the giant banks, hedge funds, VC/PE firms, and other financial institutions may finally be quieting down.
More and more talented programmers and engineers are bailing out, looking for better (not necessarily bigger) opportunities beyond the comforts and friendly confines of their current positions. And "confines" they really were. Turns out that once you actually got into that tantalizing temple of men and money, you'd quickly discover that no matter how much money you made and however well-appointed your digs were you were still a troll in the tunnel. And it wasn't exactly the Tunnel of Love.
Ironically, the new attitudes and behaviors driving some people to make alternative occupational choices are matched by the return of "business as usual" on Wall Street. You'd think nothing ever blew up; since no one with any true culpability was ever punished, it's like the whole deal happened to other guys and we all just read about it in the papers.
For the good guys, the job was never about the money anyway. It was about the work, the chance to tackle the really challenging problems that were fundamentally changing how the world's financial markets worked. They want to invent the Model T, not sweat how long the tailfins should be on this year's model.
So the smartest guys are heading for the door in droves, and if you don't want to be left behind in the new digital Gold Rush it might be time for you to do the same. Get going, get out there while the getting is good, and make sure you get yours.
Now I know that for many people this is easier said than done. Most developers and engineers are surprisingly conservative, whether they'd admit it or not. Structure and stability is a goal in their code and also a major virtue in their lives. That's why I’m going to share a little secret with you that should make the option a lot simpler, safer, and more comfortable.
Here's the secret: You can always go back. Better.
What exactly does that mean? It's simple. If you're not an obnoxious jerk when you leave, and you don’t leave anyone in the lurch, they'll take you back in a heartbeat if things don’t work out better for you out there in the "real" world.
Why? Because that round trip will make you a better trained, more experienced, more up-to-date candidate. The fact is that everyone gets stale and everyone gets a little lazy. If you've been in a job for years and you're working with the same code base and working on variations and tweaks of the same problem set, you're just not likely to also be the one guy in a thousand who spends his weekends making sure that he's current on everything new that's happening. And you're also not likely to be the guy who wakes up one morning with a ridiculous and counter-intuitive approach to handling some problem that's been staring your whole team in the face for months or years. Radical change and disruptive innovation come from outside the organizations, not from the people in charge or the ones maintaining the status quo.
So the fact that you joined a start-up trying to change the world, or spent a year or two learning a new set of mobile tools or some crazy new e-commerce platform, isn’t a bad thing. It's actually a career-booster, even at your old place of employment. I've seen it happen a million times already: If you're good and newly gung-ho to jump back in, only someone who's a complete management moron would hold a grudge and bar the door. If they’re smart, they'll ask you if you’ve stumbled across three other people who also have new skills, new strengths, and a new outlook on how to approach the key issues, and who want to join up. As long as your former employer isn't bitter, you're actually a better hire than anyone else because you know the ropes and the mess of legacy spaghetti that they call their code.
So what are you waiting for? There's a big wide world out there waiting for you to rattle a few cages and make some critical, game-changing innovations. And you can do it. Worst case, you can always go back. Better.
Getting a jump on the New Year, marketing exec Curt Hanke shares his resolutions for 2014. With goals such as more creativity and more honesty, you may just want to put some of his resolutions on your list as well.
The turkey’s been carved. FY14 budgets are put to bed. It’s time to ready ourselves for another year in the world of marketing.
As such, before we dispense with the gift buying, glass raising, and ball dropping, this is always a good time for a little reflection--of lessons learned, perspectives earned, and resolutions to make the coming year our best one yet. Here are five of mine.
More rabbit holes. By which I mean to say, more time to think and more time to explore. Rich insights require time and data. Brilliant strategies need percolation and nurturing. While Lewis and Clark failed in their pursuit of discovering an all-water route to the Pacific, they never would have acquired such vast scientific and geographic knowledge without bravely hitting the open road and truly exploring “what if.”
Resolution #1: More time to go down more paths and more investment in not just feasibilities, but possibilities.
More walkabouts. In twenty years as a marketer, I have never left the office for a day in the field--be the research formal or informal, the mission specific or general--and not come back with a minty fresh perspective. For people in the business of people, far too much of our daily scenery is comprised of conference room walls and “Fasten Seat Belt While Seated” chair-back signs.
Resolution #2: More walkabouts. More time strolling the streets, listening and observing, and collecting insights in the university of humanity.
More offense. Whether you’re a client, an agency partner, or a professional services provider of virtually any shape or size, you must provide proactive thinking. Yes, this falls under the category of “urgent that is always trumped by the important”--but to deliver our highest and best value, we need to challenge and provoke, not just answer and deliver. (Plus, let’s face it--it’s a heck of a lot more fun to play offense than defense.)
Resolution #3: Renew our commitment to proactive thinking throughout every discipline within our organization. And invest more time in asking bigger questions within and outside of our four walls.
More perspectives. How do we understand what’s coming around the corner when the corner keeps moving? Certainly, there has never been a more important time to be a student of business and marketing. Furthermore, in pursuit of richer context, deeper understanding, and more original inspiration, I would argue that perspectives beyond our specific swim lanes can provide and inspire equal if not greater value--from how we run our businesses and manage people to the manner in which we develop frameworks and ultimately build brands.
Resolution #4: Redouble our studies of adjacent and analogous fields--from behavioral economics and social psychology to military history and comparative literature (and more). Just as there are surprisingly relevant learnings between disparate clients and industries, so, too, can we obtain deep, rich insights in far-flung places.
More failure. Yes, failure. As in, that which John Keats deliciously described as “the highway to success.” Great marketers are not afraid to fail; it’s that simple. Failure edifies and informs, failure blazes new trails, and failure affirms past directions and future planning efforts alike.
Resolution #5: More investment in exploration--the planting of new fields in pursuit of fertile ground. Practically speaking, this means more frank discussions, strong partnerships, bold thinking, and thoughtful bets.
In the words of Bing Crosby, “Let’s watch the old year die, with a fond goodbye, and our hopes as high as a kite.” There’s never been a more fun and yet more scary time to be in the world of marketing; saddle up, ladies and gentlemen. And welcome back to the show that never ends. Happy holidays.
Nelson Mandela was a leader from a prior age, a man shaped at a time when leadership stood for things we no longer expect from those who call themselves leaders, things like bravery, honesty and integrity.
Well, it's been pretty much wall-to-wall Mandela this week, as it should be.
There was, of course, the usual pre-recorded pabulum and vox pop interviews with, it seemed, everyone who met the man, even if only once. But there was something more, something that remained mostly unsaid (quite a feat for the 24/7 media cycle), something lurking in the millions of words, flickering in the background of the endless talking heads trying to assess his monumental achievement.
The inchoate thought behind all the noise was that the man, even in his death, was too big, too great, too... well, too good, for the moment. That Nelson Mandela was a leader from a prior age, a man shaped at a time when leadership stood for things we no longer expect from those who call themselves leaders, things like bravery, honesty and integrity.
I think it's true. Nelson Mandela took the presidency of South Africa in 1994, just as the era of Reagan, Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping and Gorbachev was coming to a close. Whether you agreed with the policies of the main players or not, Mandela stepped from his imprisonment in Victor Verster Prison on to the world stage immediately after one of the most seismic epochs of global leadership in modern times.
Yet even in that pantheon, in that time, Mandela was a colossus. He possessed a moral authority that set him apart, but was never aloof. He was the epitome of a role model, leading by deed, not word (he was never the most dynamic of public speakers, and rarely used emotional manipulation to make a point).
Mandela's personal history - the sheer length of time during which he endured dreadful mistreatment at the hands of a cruel, racist regime - was so transparently awful that no one would have begrudged him a sense of bitterness or hatred toward his enemies, and yet he never once exhibited either.
To achieve his goal of a united, non-apartheid South Africa, Mandela worked tirelessly with FW de Klerk, the leader of the regime that had imprisoned him for almost 20 years, and killed many of his friends and colleagues. (Like Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams in Northern Ireland, de Klerk only late in life moved from tribalism to transformative leadership, but like them, when he did so, he fundamentally altered his country's history - and future - forever.)
Nelson Mandela was far from perfect. His family life in particular bears painful scrutiny. But we live in a time when bipartisanship is a bad word, a time when bravery, honesty and integrity are no longer expected of our leaders. We live in a time when Nelson Mandela's life is less an example to us than it is a rebuke.
I don't believe in heroes, and I reject the notion that all leadership must be somehow heroic. But when I call to mind the names of those we term 'leaders' today (take a moment, and do the same yourself), then I grieve the loss not just of Nelson Mandela, but, I fear, the loss, for now, of the expectation that we will see his like again anytime soon.
I hope I'm wrong.
Interested in more leadership insights? Download a free chapter from the author's book, "The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success" which provides a comprehensive model for developing yourself or others as an exceptional, world class leader.
2013 might as well have been called the year of Big Data. Next year, embrace an old trend that could be a lot more useful to you: small data.
You've likely heard so much about Big Data this year that it's become a permanent fixture in your corporate vocabulary. As if on cue as the year winds to a close, now a consultancy has declared 2014 as the year of "small data."
I know--who would have thought that a business would unilaterally declare its own annual theme in an area that it just so happens to be pushing? But don't write off the concept because it makes a great deal of sense. And I don't say it because I've found myself independently using the term "small data" while looking at the practice of data-driven decision-making and operations.
Big Data Is Tough Data
The consultancy mentioned, the Digital Clarity Group, has pointed out a major problem with big data: Although the promise of uncovering critical hidden patterns is alluring, making big data work for your business can be devilishly difficult:
Yet all the steam coming out of the big data hype machine seems to be obscuring our view of the big picture: in many cases big data is overkill. And in most cases big data is useful only if we (those of us who aren't data scientists) can do something with it in our everyday jobs.
In other words, to really make use of big data, you need the following things:
- lots of computing horsepower
- infrastructures that can handle the types of processing necessary
- the right tools to make it work
- people who not only really understand statistics, but mathematical modeling
- data clean enough that its state won't invalidate your results
- enough time and resources to go fishing
- sophistication about the methods to know you're not getting a quick breakthrough
Some companies pull it off admirably, as you should notice every time an ad just happens to reach you at a time you'd consider such a product or service. But even most large companies have problems making big data work for them. Startups--you know who you are--rarely have the resources to throw at using big data, unless that's actually the business they're in.
Instead, you can focus on the data you already have, or that is readily available, and that is directly applicable to your business. Then you deliver analyses and results that people in your company can actually use now.
As the Digital Clarity report puts it, you have transactional data, online data that can give insight into customers, and social data that is available to provide various insights through text and sentiment analyses.
Master What's at Hand
It may be that aspects of small data--like social network information--are actually the digested results of big data that a third party can deliver to you. That's fine. But it has to be something you can readily use. One example that landed in my email today was a company called Skymosity. Frankly, the pitch and an online video were too self-consciously hip and ironic, taking far too long to get to the point. But the ultimate point was simple and compelling: a company can learn how various weather patterns affect sales by ZIP code and then use this information to create highly targeted email campaigns based on weather forecasts.
Small data can be that clever. It can also be something more basic, like understanding what products your clients ultimately tend to buy together or if there are demographic patterns in your sales.
Don't get distracted by the big data that you're supposed to be chasing. If you can handle it, that's fine, but only after you've mastered the small data that you already have.
Don't squander your honeymoon period. Be strategic about how you use all of that inherent good will and flexibility to build a smarter career.
We've shared research on the importance of a new leader's first 90 days on the job. We've even suggested ideas for indoctrinating recent hires in your organization.
But if you're the fresh face thinking strategically about how to best use your honeymoon period, we refer you to Michael D. Watkins and this checklist in his recently updated book The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.
The Onboarding Checklist
- Access financial, product, strategy, and brand information as early as possible.
- Ask the company to assemble a briefing book.
- Schedule tours of key facilities before the formal start date.
- Solicit your peers for introductions to key people with whom you should connect early.
- Take control of your calendar to meet with stakeholders early--before you even start work, if possible.
- Understand and engage in business planning and performance management.
- Schedule a conversation with your boss and your direct reports in your first week to talk specifically about expectations and working styles.
- Schedule conversations with your team and the HR department to discuss the organization's culture.
- Identify and connect with people inside the organization who could serve as "cultural interpreters."
- Schedule meetings after 30 days with supervisors, peers, and direct reports to discuss the adaptation process.
You know you need customers' comments, but are you really listening? Here's how to find out if you have a clunky feedback system.
Finding the right system for soliciting customer feedback doesn't have to be complicated. At the very least, it shouldn't be cluttered with unnecessary red tape, protocols, and procedures. Your customers should be able to file a complaint to the right department--the one that will take action on it--and know that it's been received.
Rob Markey, partner and head of global customer strategy and marketing practice at Bain & Company, says he has seen a multitude of companies make the same mistakes with their customer feedback for the past 25 years. The biggest problem with customer satisfaction metric systems is that they don't help your employees learn from the consumer.
"Make feedback a part of your daily operations. Deliver the feedback directly to the employees who need to hear it," Markey writes in the Harvard Business Review. "Focus your company's customer listening efforts not on measuring more precisely, but on learning more effectively."
Below, read five common customer feedback system mistakes and what to do instead.
Don't crunch feedback into numbers.
A big mistake Markey has seen is when companies turn feedback into scores, percentages, and averages and stop there. "This common mistake completely obscures any individual customer's voice and prevents employees from linking the feedback to a particular event, behavior, or action they can remember," he writes.
Don't hold onto the feedback.
If your company holds onto the feedback, breaks it down into summaries, and only then sends it all at once to the correct departments, you're making a big mistake. Same goes if you're only sending feedback quarterly--you are hamstringing your company's response to issues, complaints, and problems your customers are experiencing. You have to have a daily system that allows employees to take action on a complaint right away. "How well do you remember each of the many conversations and interactions you had six weeks ago? Chances are your employees don't either--which makes it awfully tough for them to remember what they did that might have contributed to variations in their customers' feedback," Markey writes.
Don't silence the customer's voice.
Eliminating the human voice and replacing it with a company survey is a bad idea. Markey says the point of customer feedback is to hear from the customer in his or her own words, not aggregated through company jargon. "Too many companies ask customers to rate their performance on a predetermined list of factors--typically offering many prompts covering every conceivable element of the company's product or service. Multiple-choice questions are convenient for your company to process and analyze, but they impose a burden on your customers," he writes. He suggests implementing a system that allows customers to address whatever issues they want in plain English.
Don't motivate with bonuses.
It may sound like a good idea from afar, but giving your employees bonuses and promotions based on increased customer satisfaction will end up corrupting the feedback. Putting so much stake on customer satisfaction will beget forged ratings, Markey says. "But tying people's compensation and promotion prospects to changes in your customer-satisfaction metric doesn't focus them on customers; it focuses them on a number," he writes. "More often than not it leads to begging customers for higher scores or discouraging angry customers from providing feedback." Keep customer feedback and satisfaction separate from the criteria you use to evaluate merit bonuses.
Don't make customers anonymous.
If your feedback is coming in anonymously, your system is antiquated. Markey says anonymous feedback is a leftover from the old "market research mode," when companies thought customers would be more honest if their identities would not be revealed. "Anonymity in customer feedback is, frankly, overrated. People want to be heard. They want their feedback to be acknowledged. They want to know that the time they invested sharing feedback meant something and was acted on," he writes. "Closing the loop is essential to building lasting customer relationships, and it is an invaluable opportunity to dig more deeply into the details of what delighted or enraged them." He says that knowing which customer said what and when can help find the "root causes of customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction" and help eliminate bad policies and practices.
The Hour of Code initiative, which has supporters from both sides of the aisle, aims to cultivate the future programmers tech companies desperately need.
About the only code most non-programmers are familiar with is Da Vinci's. Even within cutting-edge tech companies, there is often very little institutional knowledge of the lines of commands that make products work. Programming has not been a high priority in schools, and it's a subject that people tend to naturally feel uninterested in or unequipped to handle.
The result is a severe shortage of programmers: Less than 2.4 percent of college students graduate with a computer science degree, according to code.org, a nonprofit that promotes CS education. By 2020, the group says, there will be 1 million more computer science jobs than students learning the skills to fill them. Your company may not be in the tech industry, but chances are, this talent shortage will hit you in some way.
Training Tomorrow's Coders
One bold attempt at a long-term solution is the Hour of Code, part of the December 9-15 Computer Science Education Week. Code.org, which is one of the organizers of CSedWeek, is rallying students to spend one hour at some point this week learning programming skills. Several organizations have developed tutorials that K-12 students can use, on any type of hardware and without any experience, to code projects like holiday cards and basic games.
Members of the tech business community have long called for immigration reform that would open the door for more programmers from overseas. And while the Hour of Code is an international initiative, the need for American students to get involved is something on which U.S. political rivals strongly agree. Both President Obama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor each recently appeared in videos exhorting young viewers to take part.
Among the groups that designed Hour of Code tutorials is code.org itself. Recognizing the skepticism with which some people may regard coding, the organization designed it to be fun and engaging. More importantly, it's as easy as advertised: Users drag-and-drop simple commands to direct an Angry Bird through a maze toward a pig, or a hungry zombie toward a sunflower. Although they don't appear as complicated strings of characters, each set of commands is, in fact, a series of lines of code.
In between rounds, familiar faces like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and NBA star Chris Bosh appear in videos to provide guidance. After you complete each of the 20 rounds, a message appears on the screen offering congratulations and telling you how many lines of code you've written. The idea is to program a game, but instead it makes you feel like you're playing one.
Several competing tech companies are planning to join the pro-programming campaign as well this week. Apple and Microsoft will host Hour of Code workshops in their retail stores, and Google, Disney, and others will promote computer science on their websites or by email.
First things first: Forget the whole idea of work/life balance. It's not practical. Instead, you need to start thinking in terms of boundaries.
As a business owner, you always have more work to do. That whole finding "balance" idea? Well, it isn't all that practical--or possible.
Ed Batista, an executive coach and instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, is a self-proclaimed workaholic, so he knows the innate struggles. "The concept of life/work balance isn't that helpful for us," Batista writes in the Harvard Business Review. "[As workaholics,] we need to protect ourselves primarily from our own internal drive."
One way of protecting yourself from burning out is to substitute "boundaries" for "balance," he says. "While balance requires an unsteady equilibrium among the various demands on our time and energy, boundaries offer a sustainable means of keeping things in their proper place," he writes.
Below, read three boundaries Batista says will help workaholics stay sane and healthy.
Establish temporal boundaries.
The idea here is to reserve certain times exclusively for family, friends, exercise, and other non-work activites. Batista says the difference between these boundaries and balance is that the amount of undisturbed time set aside for non-work related activities may vary, but it has to remain completely undisrupted by work. "What matters is that we create and maintain a functional boundary around that time," he writes.
Maintain physical boundaries.
You need to create physical boundaries between you and your work. "Physical boundaries ensure that we get out of our offices and workplaces at regular intervals and create actual distance between us and our work," he writes, explaining this includes not looking at email, your laptop, smartphone, or papers when you're in certain spaces. "Again, the question is not about balancing the two worlds, but establishing boundaries to create the needed separation."
Create cognitive boundaries.
Learning to control where your attention wanders is what Batista calls a "cognitive boundary." "Cognitive boundaries help us resist the temptation to think about work and focus our attention on the people or activity at hand," he writes. "Recognizing when our attention is being held hostage by work and turning it elsewhere requires persistent, dedicated effort, but it yields substantial rewards, in part because our focused attention is one of our greatest resources." Batista recommends practicing meditation, which is the ability to control and direct your attention.
At a recent conference, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman shared advice he wished he'd had 10 years ago.
LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman will tell you exactly what he should have spent more time doing when the company launched in 2003: Recruiting.
This was what Hoffman said Monday at the Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco, which had 1,500 attendees. Since launching a decade ago, LinkedIn is now a public company with nearly 4,000 employees.
"If I were to go back and tell myself in 2002, 2003, what I should have spent more time doing was essentially taking 10 percent of my schedule -- or 20 percent of my schedule -- and just shifted it to that," Hoffman said.
Hoffman clarified, saying he doesn’t mean he wished he had personally responded to each job applicant. Rather, he should have looked at every talented person he ever met as a possible LinkedIn hire.
"You should constantly be talking to great people -- not just those who apply to a job listing -- with the idea, long term, of recruiting them into the company," Hoffman said.
On the topic of long-term thinking Hoffman had more to add. He told the first-time entrepreneurs in the room that, statistically speaking, this first company wasn’t likely to be their last.
"A surprising number of the Web 2.0 companies -- myself at LinkedIn, Pinterest and Zynga, etcetera, etcetera -- are actually repeat founders," Hoffman said.
For that reason, it’s important to maintain a dual mindset; continue to give this company your all, but keep the "long game" in mind, Hoffman said. You efforts today will come in handy when financing your second startup later.
One of the best ways to prep for a second, or even third, startup attempt is to begin cultivating lasting relationships now Hoffman said. "Pay attention to that, build those for real, be generous and be building alliances. Trade inside information with them as well," he said.
A hard look at your emotional skills and weaknesses is the first step to improving EQ, which is highly correlated with business success.
Just how important is high emotional intelligence to business success? When L’Oreal started hiring sales people based on emotional competency, the high EQ reps outsold the traditionally chosen ones by over $90,000. Another company found emotionally skilled sales sold $54,000 more each. If you’re more convinced by research, study after study after study has linked EQ and career success.
Which is all fine and good, but these findings are only useful to you personally if it’s possible for you actually improve your EQ.
Thankfully, it appears that it is. "Whereas IQ is very hard to change, EQ can increase with deliberate practice and training," Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of Business Psychology at University College London explained earlier this year on the HBR Blogs. "The most important aspect of effective EQ-coaching is giving people accurate feedback. Most of us are generally unaware of how others see us," he added.
Which means the EQ is important and it can be changed, but only if you’re not clueless about your baseline -- you need to exactly how well developed your emotional skills are, and what areas are most in need of improvement. The Huffington Post can help with a recent post offering an in-depth run down of 14 signs you have high EQ. These include:
You're curious about people you don't know. Do you love meeting new people, and naturally tend to ask lots of questions after you've been introduced to someone? If so, you have a certain degree of empathy, one of the main components of emotional intelligence.
You know your strengths and weaknesses. A big part of having self-awareness is being honest with yourself about who you are -- knowing where you excel, and where you struggle, and accepting these things about yourself. An emotionally intelligent person learns to identify their areas of strength and weakness, and analyze how to work most effectively within this framework.
You know how to pay attention. Do you get distracted by every tweet, text and passing thought? If so, it could be keeping you from functioning on your most emotionally intelligent level.
When you're upset, you know exactly why. We all experience a number of emotional fluctuations throughout the day, and often we don't even understand what's causing a wave of anger or sadness. But an important aspect of self-awareness is the ability to recognize where your emotions are coming from and to know why you feel upset.
You've always been self-motivated. Were you always ambitious and hard-working as a kid, even when you weren't rewarded for it? If you're a motivated self-starter -- and you can focus your attention and energy towards the pursuit of your goals -- you likely have a high EQ.
Intrigued? Check out the complete post for more details on these five signs, as well as the remaining nine indicators of high EQ.
And what if you’ve taken a hard look at the complete list and have to admit to yourself you have some areas of weakness? Chamorro-Premuzic’s post also offers tips on what sort of coaching generally works best to improve EQ.
Have you found EQ to be a good predictor of success in your business?
Les McKeown explains how he came to identify the stages of business growth.