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Technology doesn't make us work smarter, argues Jeff Bussbang.
Think about all of the amazing technology innovation that has impacted businesses over the last three years. Since 2011, we have seen an explosion in cloud computing, in mobile, in technology-enabled business services and in globalization. All of us feel more productive as professionals and our businesses feel more productive instutionally. As a nation, the US must be cranking in productivity. Killing it -- particularly after rebounding from a recession, right?
Now look at the latest US productivity statistics (Q1 was just released last week):
- Q1 2013: 0.5% (annualized)
- 2012: 0.7%
- 2011: 0.6%
In other words, despite three years of amazing innovation and growth, we don't seem to be gaining in productivity. What's going on?
In 1986, observing a similar phenomenon on the heels of the PC revolution, MIT Economist Robert Solow quipped: "You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics."
Those of us that are immersed in the innovation economy may find this hard to believe, but we are not, as a whole, actually more productive when we are in the midst of an innovation cycle boom. New technologies take time to absorb, refine and make mainstream. Computer software can be reprogrammed quickly. Humans can't.
Forrester captured this phenomenon nicely in a chart they produced a number of years ago predicting "the next big thing" in computing:
We can't imagine a world without broadband wireless, iPhone 5s, iPads and the cloud. But we've got a lot of work to do to absorb these amazing technologies and make us all more productive as a whole.
This post originally appeared on the blog Seeing Both Sides.
The ideal combination of work, family, and social can be difficult to arrive at. Take control of your life with these simple tips.
I am always hearing complaints from my high achieving friends about their struggles with balancing their lives. Trying to juggle home, work, friends, achievement, personal downtime, etc. can definitely take its toll and make you feel pulled in all sorts of directions.
It doesn't have to be this way. The very concept of achieving balance is a big part of the problem. The idea of balance means that all of our activities must get equivalent time and attention to be perfect. Life is just not that way and you really don't want it to be. You want to do the things that give you the most gratification and reward and you want to stop doing the things that drain you and make you feel bad. Balancing these will force you to give equal time to all activity regardless of reason. In his book, Built to Last, Jim Collins addresses this problem with his concept of the "Tyranny of the OR" as in I can have this or that.
I prefer to live my life with "The Genius of the AND." I like to figure out how to always have at least some of this and that. My approach is not balance, but integration. I look at each opportunity and then figure out how to integrate it into all the desirable aspects of my life. Below are the guidelines in my process. They require some thought and discipline, but hopefully they'll work for you as well.1. Decide What Really Matters to You
So many people try to serve the needs of those around them without considering their own minimal needs. Soon they find themselves drained and exhausted. In the big picture, you can give more from being strong and happy then you can from being weak and bitter. Make a list of the activities that give you energy and strength. Make these a priority in your life. It doesn't matter that others may expect you to put money, family, or service high on your importance scale. You have to be true to your own priorities. Once you reach basic contentment you will have more to give and share with those around you. Sure some may consider you selfish, but better to receive their scorn and be happy, than receive their pity and be miserable.2. Edit, Don't Sacrifice
Often people over indulge in activity that sounds good at first but is truly more than needed. Think before you commit. Your time is limited and you can't do everything. Once you identify the activities of importance, structure them so you are getting just enough to satisfy your needs. Schedule your time to fit the actual number of hours in a week. Take into consideration that you need elective hours and downtime. So if you need six hours of sleep and two hours of down time per day, that means you only have 98 hours per week. Adjust your career path and success choices to fit what is possible in that time frame with your other activities. By taking this proactive approach you won't feel you are giving up activities, because they never were actually an option.3. Harness Your Creativity
I know some of you read No. 2 and wondered what happens when the numbers don't add up. That is where you have to be creative in your life. Find ways to integrate the social aspects of your life with work and family if those things are important. Combine activity and create new opportunities that will serve multiple needs rather than going with options that were created by others.4. Take Full Personal Responsibility
There are few hard and fast rules in life. People suffer mostly from self-imposed limits and stigmas even though they are apt to blame it on family, spouses, bosses, etc. Certainly major change can bring pain and hardship, but it can also bring growth and freedom. Design your preferred future and set the plan to achieve it. Then most importantly, make your happiness the priority and take action. You are the only one who can ultimately create satisfaction or dissatisfaction in your life.
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Here are the most common ways that carrot you're dangling can backfire.
Incentive plans are designed to reward specific behaviors, but they're often ineffective at best and harmful at worst.
Here are five common ways employee incentive plans can produce the wrong results:
1. You foster the wrong outcome.
What you reward drives very specific behaviors, often with unintended consequences. Say your goal is to increase sales so you reward salespeople for generating revenue.
Fine--but what kind of revenue? If your salespeople have reasonable price discretion, it can be very tempting to cut the price to the bone, land the job, book the revenue, book the commission, and let someone else worry about how profitable the job is.
If you're struggling and you're desperate to keep the lights on, maybe you'll take any revenue you can get. Otherwise, what you really want is profitable revenue. Reward salespeople on profitability, not just gross revenue. Then they have an incentive to sell a lot of work and to sell at a price that helps you turn a profit.
2. You cap performance.
Incentive caps eventually de-incentivize outstanding performers--or at least limit their overall performance.
Say your salespeople are on a 1 percent commission rate for sales up to $500,000 per month. Sales over $500,000 don't earn a commission. Next month they start over.
Why did you cap commissions? Maybe because you don't have the capacity to handle additional sales (although that's a poor excuse when you think about it.)
So what happens? An outstanding salesperson makes sure she goes ever so slightly over $500,000 each month. She could sell more--but what's the point? If she hits her cap on the 25th, she might decide to hold off trying to close the deal with a hot prospect until the first of the month. Or she might just relax a little and prepare to hit the ground running on the first.
Incentives signal desires--so even the best employees soon decide that since you don't want to pay for sales over $500,000 a month, you clearly do not want sales over $500,000 a month. So they won't give them to you.
And, if somehow they accidentally (because it will be an accident) do sell well over $500k one month, they definitely resent the fact there is no additional reward.
The reasoning behind most commission caps is based on some form of, "I don't want to pay anyone more than that." If the results are what you want, pay for them. $200,000 in additional sales is worth paying a $2,000 commission.
If it's not, you shouldn't be paying commissions at all.
Quick caveat: Say sales in excess of $500k create operational burdens like overtime or other increased costs. If that is truly the case, consider sharing the "pain" and reward incremental sales at .5 percent. Or allow salespeople to roll some percentage of additional sales into the next month.
And then work your butt off to improve operations so you can efficiently handle additional volume--because where sales are concerned, too much is never enough.
3. You create an imbalance between reward and risk.
When there is little downside and too much upside, the risk-reward equation can get seriously skewed.
Say the bulk of your revenue comes from two or three key customers and you really want to land more customers. So you add an incentive to your existing 1 percent plan that pays out a 10 percent commission on sales to new customers.
At face value that's fine, but if the bulk of your salespeople are currently earning a competitive wage they have little incentive to grow their current customers and every incentive to try to land new ones. The downside risk (maybe losing out on some 1 percent sales) is nothing compared to the upside (10 percent on new sales). That means they'll call on a lot more marginal prospects, maybe worry less about building a relationship than about closing a deal at almost any cost, maybe create friction with your support employees as they try to pull strings to swing deals, maybe start to pay less attention to their current customers--and suddenly the culture of your sales organization, and your company, changes.
Good incentive plans balance rewards with risks--both for the employee and the company.
4. You create conflict.
Conflict is hard to avoid, especially when interests between different functional groups aren't aligned.
Say the goal of your accounting team is to invoice within two days of job completion. All they care about is closing the job so they can invoice it and hit their incentives. Your ops people care about closing jobs but not really: They care a lot less about yesterday's jobs than they do about running today's work as productively as possible, since that is the basis of their incentive plan. So if their paperwork is incomplete, "We'll work on that soon." Or if they forgot to code certain activities, "Hey, sorry about that, we'll fix it tomorrow--right now we're running product."
You can never totally eliminate conflict, but you can work to optimize operations so that conflicts are less likely to occur. Decide what you want--then work hard to make it as easy as possible for employees to deliver what you want, whether on their own or cross-functionally.
5. You establish too little line of sight.
The key is to reward specific behaviors employees control--not the results of factors employees can't control.
In the 80s (or 90s, can't remember, I'm old) at R.R. Donnelley every employee was given stock options: If the stock price reached a certain level by a certain date, we all won. The idea was to help us think big-picture, to pull together, to feel we shared in company success, etc.
The problem was that stock prices, especially in the short term, typically rise and fall due to factors far removed from the average employee's control. In our case, commodity and supply prices could rise, overall market demand could fall, e-books could become a glimmer in some smart developer's eye and the market could perceive that print is dying. So, a guy working in a manufacturing plant was a lot more like a cork bobbing in the sea than a captain of his stock price ship.
So what can happen? You work extra hard, yet the stock price still falls and you decide your individual effort doesn't really make a difference.
In most cases the better approach is to reward specific behavior, not general results. If you feel increased productivity is a worthwhile goal, reward production employees for faster job changeovers or increased up time--reward them for hitting productivity targets. Or for performing specific actions that generate cost savings.
Pick a behavior that creates a desired result, and reward that behavior. That way I can tie my reward to my actions.
When you're just starting out, it's hard to tell the pros from the cons. Here, Jeff Bussgang offers his take.
Last month was Demo Day for Techstars Boston. I love Techstars Demo Days for many reasons, not the least of which is the amazing community that gathers to hear the brief, well-rehearsed pitches from the various start-ups who have spent months planning for this big event.
As accelerators like Techstars gain in popularity, many entrepreneurs wonder whether they should be applying and, if admitted, joining an accelerator and when they shouldn't. I get this question a lot from my students, particularly as they're graduating and scrambling to figure out where they should start their company, how to raise capital and whether an accelerator is right for them. Here are a few guidelines that
I would think about if I were an entrepreneur making such a decisions.
First, broadly speaking, accelerators serve a very valuable role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In many ways, as Eugene Chung of Techstars NY points out, they are like finishing schools for entrpreneurs. Like a college, there is a rigorous admissions process. And once admitted, the participant receives an extraordinarily rich education, in this case in the field of entrepreneurship. Also like college, the best accelerators represent valuable networks, where your "classmates" and even other alumni as well as boosters all become a part of your professional support system. Finally, the brand of the network will always be associated with your brand. Dropbox and Airbnb will always be known as "Y Combinator companies", which initially helped buttress their brand, and more in more is helping enhance the Y Combinator brand.
So with that in mind, here are a few reasons when I think an accelerator is a great choice for the entrepreneur:
• Outsiders to the Entrepreneurial Community. You are early in your entrepreneurial career and want to super-charge your entrepreneurial network. To be clear, this is not a comment about age - you might be in your 50s and new to entrepreneurship. But, as Launchpad LA's Sam Teller observes, "Across the board, accelerators provide one key value: dramatically expanding your network."
• Outsiders to the Particular Community. Every major innovation hub in the world now has an accelerator and most have numerous (Boston alone has over a dozen). If you are from outside that particular community, the accelerator is an amazing way to build a network in that particular city. As Brad Feld points out in his book on innovation ecosystems, there is tremendous power in being connected to a hyper-local, dense entrepreneurial ecosystem. Accelerators are magnets for the leaders in a given community - at Techstars Demo Days, it's always a "who's who" of that particular community. The quality of the mentors at the many events and one-on-one sessions over the are course of the program is outstanding - typically, you can't get access to these people any other way.
• New to Fundraising. Accelerators pride themselves, and often measure themselves, on their ability to help their graduates raise capital. For example, across nineteen Techstars classes in its four year history, over 70% of all Techstars graduates have raised capital (Techstars publishes an amazing chart that lists every company in every class and their fundraising status as well as employee count). If you don't have existing relationships with investors, accelerators are great ways to establish instant credibility and an instant network.
That said, not all accelerators are created equal. Just like with a college, your personal and professional brand will always be associated with that particular accelerator, so choose wisely. Some accelerators specialize in certain domains (e.g., Rock Health for healthcare or Learn Launch for edtech). Others have stronger reputations for fundraising vs. product development.
If you want to get a sense of the quality of the particular accelerator you are considering, you should ask around about them - graduates, senior entrepreneurs, VCs, start-up lawyers, bankers and accounting firms will all have their opinions. One tech reporter, Frank Gruber, publishes an annual ranking of accelerators that is pretty good, although it leaves out hybrid organizations that aren't technically accelerators, like Boston's Mass Challenge (which is a contest) and NYC's First Growth Venture Network (which doesn't take any equity).
Accelerators are thus not for everyone. If you are already well-connected to a particular entrepreneurial community, have a entrepreneurial track record and network, and are comfortable with your fundraising skills and relationships, then an accelerator probably isn't worth it for you. But if those attributes don't describe you as an entrepreneur, an accelerator may be an excellent choice.
This originally appeared on the blog Seeing Both Sides.
Looking for a workhorse tablet? Here's why the competition still beats the Windows Surface RT.
Microsoft has been betting big on its Surface RT tablet, a device I wanted to like. But it's not going well.
IDC estimates that Microsoft sold about 900,000 units in the fourth quarter of last year. Yet, from January to March, the company sold only 200,000. Meanwhile, IDC estimates that Apple sold a whopping 19.5 million iPads in the same Q1 period.
In late May, PC management company called Soluto released a report revealing part of the problem: Windows 8. According to a study of about 11,000 users that analyzed well over 300,000 installed apps, only 44 percent of Windows 8 tablet users run a touch app once per day.
What all of this means: Windows tablet sales are slow and usage is subpar. In its current form anyway, this isn't a workhorse device for business.
The touch app interface, called Metro, is the heart and soul of Windows RT. The tablet does not even run standard desktop apps. And, as I reported in Inc. magazine last year, while you can run the bundled Office apps, they are not licensed for business use. Oops. (Microsoft recently announced it will update Windows 8 to include Outlook, an app that wasn't previously available on the tablets.)
Also, Microsoft is facing a classic market share conundrum. App makers--plenty of whom are start-ups--tend to hedge their bets by choosing the big players like Samsung and Apple. Smart entrepreneurs follow the money trail.
Increasingly, I am seeing new innovative apps designed only for iOS. For every few dozen new iOS and Android apps I come across in my reporting, I hear next to nothing about Windows touch apps. And while the Windows Store boasts some 80,000 apps, you won't find basic crowdpleasers like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
So, is it time for Microsoft to stop betting on the Surface RT? Yes--but I will stop short of suggesting the company should kill the entire Surface line. The great advantage to using a Windows tablet is that I can run desktop apps like Adobe Photoshop, QuickBooks, and Vegas Pro (a video editor). Hopefully, if Microsoft does make a follow-up (presumably called the Surface Plus), it will run the Windows 8.1 OS and provide a way to run touch apps easily.
Meanwhile, the iPad is not quite ready for real productivity work like typing up rich documents, editing them, adding graphics, and collaborating with colleagues. It's getting close, especially if you use Google Docs. The Surface Pro and several other Windows 8 tablet models do provide a good compromise for business users. You put up with the awkward Metro interface in exchange for being able to run apps that use a mouse as the controller.
At the same time, Microsoft knows the future of computing is touch-enabled apps. When I first tested the Surface RT several months ago, it did seem promising. It's speedy and cannot get infected with the same desktop viruses of other Windows 8 devices.
In the end, there may be a place for a Microsoft tablet running an ARM processor someday. But, it's not right now.
Here are some simple guidelines to ensure that your customer "face time" results in a sale.
Whether you're meeting with a decision maker on the phone or in person, you must make the most of the time you get. Here are five excellent suggestions for doing so from Tom Black, author of The Boxcar Millionaire.1. Set a Reasonable Goal
There's a natural tendency to want to "close the deal" when you're meeting with a decision maker. However, most business sales situations require more than one meeting to close a deal, if only because there is usually more than one decision maker. Find an appropriate goal for each meeting and achieve that goal in order move to the next step.2. Never Repeat Yourself
Many sellers are secretly afraid that the prospect won't believe what they're saying, so they start repeating themselves, hoping that repetition will add credibility. Unfortunately, repetition makes you seem unsure and uncertain. It's better to state your main points once, forcefully and with confidence, than repeating them like a mantra.3. Don't Anticipate Objections
Unless you are 100 percent certain that a specific objection is going to surface, don't surface it yourself and answer it. While prospects almost always have objections, you don't want to provide them with a laundry list, even if you're pretty sure that you've got the answers to everything on the list.4. Clarify Vague Objections
If a prospect stalls (e.g. "I need to talk this over with my staff") or surfaces a vague objection (e.g. "I'm not exactly certain this makes sense."), ask questions to clarify the situation so that you know how to proceed: "What issues do you think your staff are likely to surface?" "What particular part of this is giving you pause?"5. Test For the Next Step, Then Ask
When you sense it's appropriate, check to see whether the prospect as an interest in buying. (E.g. "Does all of this make sense to you?") Once you're reasonably certain that the prospect is ready to commit to the next step, ask for the next step. Every minute that you hesitate past that point makes a successful close less likely.
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It's not unlike becoming a parent, from the blissful ignorance of what is about to happen to the sheer terror of realizing there's no turning back.
I’m a new dad (for the second time). In between the feedings, the changings, and the naps over the last few weeks, it dawned on me that becoming a parent is a lot like birthing a start-up.
Let’s dissect for a moment:
Stage 1: Conception.
You will never have so much fun again until you see your “baby” actually born. This is when you have all kinds of energy and vision about what the end result will be--yet absolutely no clarity as to what you’ll endure together to get there. You should relish this period as a Zen-like bubble. Float around with your happy thoughts before the actual work sets in.
Stage 2: Development.
The harsh reality check. Now you’re all experiencing the pain of growing your idea from a little tiny seed (“Wouldn’t this be awesome?”) to actual, 1.0 reality (“Why did we do this again?”). You hope your approach is suitably creative, colorful, and positive to influence the outcome, similar to what’s required to raise a Baby Mozart. You’re willing to get your engineers mountains of Doritos and rivers of caffeine, when the instant cravings strike. In general, it’s sleepless nights, perhaps some queasiness as you contemplate investor questions, weight gain from stress eating, even mood swings that fluctuate from utterly downcast to wildly euphoric.
Stage 3: Testing.
The finish line is so close you can feel it. The technology is nearly ready for a public audience. Now you have to run through final testing--like packing your hospital go-to bag or driving the route two or three times--which helps you feel ready for the inevitable last-minute questions and bugs. But you are ready. Or you’ve reached the point where you know everyone is thinking (because you are too), “I can’t take any more! Get out. Getoutgetoutgetout!”
Stage 4: Birth.
It’s that time. Pushing your tech start-up live is exciting, scary, sweat-inducing, pain-filled, and joyful at once. You can’t believe it’s really happening! There are fits and starts. But once the train starts moving out of the station, there’s no going back. There are only fervent prayers for success.
Stage 5: Euphoria and sleeplessness.
Your black-and-white world has exploded into vibrant, unmistakable Technicolor. Customers are active on your website and you’re discovering so much you didn’t know about your own technology, based on their reactions and interactions. There are many “learning moments”--some of them humbling (actually, most of them).
Stage 6: Contemplation.
Some time has passed. As your product has grown and changed, guided by your collective insights and wisdom, you begin to forget the pain of its infancy. It’s all obscured by the rosy, gentle glow of memory. That’s good--because your team is already starting to think about the 2.0 version.
Georgia Tech researchers examined 500,000 tweets over 15 month to find the formula for building a Twitter following.
There have been a few academic studies of social media in the past few years, but all of them were "snapshots"--one-time views of people's social media status, not long-term studies that test what works over time. Recently, a team at Georgia Tech set out to fill that gap by studying 500,000 tweets fired off by 500 Twitter users over 15 months. "We looked at how they built their network over time and what was important to building that network," says C.J. Hutto, (@CJHutto) research scientist at Georgia Tech.
The team recently announced its findings, which offer a blueprint of scientifically proven methods for increasing your Twitter following and preventing people from unfollowing you. Here are their recommendations, in descending order of importance:
1. Don't just talk about yourself.
Non-tweeters often disparage Twitter by saying they're not interested in what others had for breakfast. Turns out, Twitter users aren't either. You're better off tweeting links to interesting pages or articles, or at least information about something other than yourself.
2. Engage with others.
Tweets that contain @ symbols--that is, retweets, shout-outs, and even the dreaded #FF list--engage other members of the Twitter community, and are likelier to bring your followers than simply broadcasting whatever you have to say.
3. Stay positive.
Tweets with negative words and emotions in them are much less likely to build a following than upbeat, positive tweets, the researchers found. This may be because most Twitter users don't know each other, so when they see griping they are easily turned off. "It's like your mother told you: If you don't have something nice to say, you shouldn't say anything," Hutto notes.
4. Tell the world exactly who you are.
"You get a boost in followers from filling out all aspects of your user profile, with a longer description, a profile picture, and a location," Hutto says. "It shows you're a real person."
5. Tweet often, but not in bursts.
"Burstiness," which one user described as spamming people's Twitter feeds, will lose you followers, but tweeting often is a good thing, since "it's all about being visible," Hutto says. In real terms, that translates to an optimum frequency of eight tweets per hour, the research showed.
6. Use hashtags, but sparingly.
"They're a good way to put what you're saying into context," Hutto says. "But if you use more than one in a tweet, hashtags become annoying." He adds that multiple-word hashtags become annoying more quickly because they're harder to read. "If your tweet looks like a jumbled mess, people are less likely to stay followers."
7. Show off your vocabulary.
It turns out that more sophisticated writing with longer words helps build Twitter followers. Because most Twitter users are virtual strangers to each other, "People rely on linguistic cues like spelling and vocabulary for credibility," Hutto says. "If you write like a third grader you won't get as many followers. And you'll get penalized if you use too many Twitterspeak terms or acronyms."
8. Follow your followers.
The more people you follow, the more will follow you. And if you return the favor by following people who follow you, they're less likely to unfollow you in the future. Though it's supported by the research, I have mixed feelings about this one because I myself won't follow any Twitter account unless I really want to read the tweets. On the other hand, there are many tools, such as TweetDeck, that will filter your Twitter stream. So perhaps this is good advice after all.
9. Stay on topic.
Though not completely proven by the study, the research data suggests that sticking to tweets within a particular topic area will help you build followers more quickly than if you tweet about a broad range of subjects, Hutto says. That makes sense to me: I tend to follow people who tweet about the topics I'm interested in (small business, technology, the writing game). And harking back to tip No. 4, putting your topic or topics into your profile is likely to help as well.
It's how many people answer "yes" to one simple question.
Before he ventured out on his own as a consultant, Marcus Buckingham worked for the Gallup Organization and co-authored the 2001 book Now, Discover Your Strengths with the company's chairman at the time, Donald O. Clifton. Although the book came out a dozen years ago, it made the news again in March, when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told the New York Times it was the best business book she'd read lately.
As Sandberg said, "This book has been instrumental in how we think about developing talent at Facebook. Like all organizations, we have a system for giving feedback to our employees. A few years ago, Lori Goler, Facebook's head of human resources, brought Marcus to meet with our leadership team to help us improve this system. Marcus and his colleagues surveyed employees for 25 years to figure out what factors predict extraordinary performance. They found that the most important predictor of the success of a company or division was how many people answered 'yes' to the question, 'Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?'
"And this makes sense. Most performance reviews focus more on 'development areas' (aka weaknesses) than strengths. People are told to work harder and get better at those areas, but people don't have to be good at everything. At Facebook, we try to be a strengths-based organization, which means we try to make jobs fit around people rather than make people fit around jobs. We focus on what people's natural strengths are and spend our management time trying to find ways for them to use those strengths every day."
Don't let the way you usually do things become the way you always do things. Here's why it pays to break the rules once in a while.
I'm not afraid to admit that I love data. But most of the data we collect is a rear-view mirror of our businesses--telling us what’s been done already, not what’s possible going forward. And as marketers constantly looking to put lessons into tidy boxes to make sense of a complex universe, far too often these historical data points can harden into “the rules” of how a business, consumer, market or category works. And that’s unfortunate, because you know what they say about conventional wisdom: it’s often neither conventional nor wise.
So take a step back and ask yourself: What are the rules in your business universe? Is there an established “way of doing things” that must be followed based on a shared understanding of “the way things work”--internally, externally or both? Are there fundamental premises that have led to a narrow and/or inflexible approach to innovation? How do you define the best practices in your category related to how you market--from contact points to messages to seasonality to, well, you get the picture…and which of these have hardened into “rules” without sufficient evidence?
Taking time to truly define the rules can be a wildly effective way to identify potential opportunities. Look at your competitors and find the themes you all share in your approach. Study consumers and define what they expect from every point of contact with your brand. And then push on these standards in pursuit of fertile ground, those spaces where consumer excitement meets business opportunity.
By way of example, a mobile phone retail client of ours was struggling to effectively break through the clutter during the fourth quarter retail season, being heavily outspent by category leaders. The “rules” told us that after the holidays, the category got very sleepy, with consumers reticent to make any purchases--after all, our “rear-view” market intelligence showed very low historical first-quarter advertising investment and sales for the entire category.
But we challenged this rule--wasn’t it possible that there was a consumer market in the first quarter? Further, what would it look like to be the only brand attacking this market during a new time period--versus getting lost in the haze of holiday retail madness?
After much analysis, we decided it was a gamble worth taking. The payoff? A campaign that generated the most successful customer acquisition effort in company history, both in terms of unit volume and cost per acquisition.
Just to be clear, breaking the rules isn’t innately virtuous--there needs to be a clearly defined strategic purpose for swimming against the proverbial stream. But the rewards to standing out from the crowd can be significant, especially when you’re chasing an insight and driving with determination.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that in order to break the rules, you need a culture where trial and failure are accepted--with the understanding that you may be wrong more often than you are right. But remember, when you hit the jackpot, it’s often a payoff that makes the failures seem like a steal for twice the price.
As marketers, we often lean on budgets and best practices as the most reliable tools in our war chest. But it's been our experience that healthy skepticism, fresh thinking, and a desire to explore new frontiers can often yield much bigger short- and long-term wins for the business and brand alike.
So ask yourself…what are your “rules”? And which ones might be worth breaking?
It's getting harder and harder to find the right candidates. Here are three things to consider when you are searching for the best talent.
I'm hiring. Many of the companies I know are hiring. I have been in 20 cities so far this year--from New York to L.A., Atlanta to Honolulu--and whenever I ask business owners and what their top challenges are for 2013, hiring is always in the top three.
Economic boom days again? I don't know, I'm not an economist. However, the big issue seems to be that companies cannot find the right candidates and they are less willing than ever to make a costly hiring mistake. Regulations, benefits costs, orientation and training expenses have made business owners much more careful.
Where have all the good candidates gone? They are probably working right now, but maybe not for your competitors or even in your industry. The highly technical positions are going to be in demand of course. For example, many of the trades have seen a shortage in qualified applicants because of a lack of trade-school graduates. However, there are lots of graduates coming out of school and they are going to need jobs. Add to that those people who are transitioning careers and there are plenty of good candidates out there--they just may not look like the candidates of years past.
Here are threee things to consider when searching for the best candidates:
1) Fish in different ponds--You and your competitors are probably hunting the same candidates in the same places. No wonder the prices are higher than you want to pay and the best candidates are unavailable. Can you modify your requirements to see your labor pool in a different way? Need friendly, efficient and detail-oriented people for handling customers? What about people from the decimated travel agency and mortgage broker industries? How about critical thinkers and decision-makers? Possibly law-school and accounting majors who have graduated. The point is, look at the skill, not the resume only. Your competitor is looking at the resume only and this may be leaving some of the best talent untapped.
2) No one comes tailor-fit for the job anymore--There are fewer straight paths in the marketplace for jobs because the world of careers is changing faster than the world of education. Recent estimates predict that as much as 50 percent of the jobs that will be created in the next 10 years do not even exist right now. For those who are hiring, that begs the question: are you hiring for the business you were or the business you are becoming. If you are hiring for the business you are becoming, you need to find adaptability, work ethic, and critical-thinking skills more than you need to find candidates with 10 years of experience in your industry and the completely over-rated "database of contacts."
3) Work harder on retention because your best have better options--Poaching is still alive and well in the business recruiting field. You need to be focused on keeping your best. You know this, but often times I hear more about the "counter-offer" strategy for retaining someone when they are poached than I hear about the "keeping" strategy. I know my people can leave me tomorrow and make more money somewhere else and I am proud of that. I want people who work here and have enough talent that it is a regular choice. But it keeps me on my toes to make certain that this is a great place for them to be.
The challenge of finding great talent is only going to get worse. With new jobs outpacing the educational training that prepares people for them and the shifting demographics of the labor force, you must get better at this, or watch the best be taken by your competition.
Some smart responses to a really tough question.
Not only does every rose (think customer, not garden) have its full complement of thorns, but it seems that the prettier and larger the rose, the stickier and more challenging its thorns can be.
If there’s one situation that particularly makes me nuts, it’s the case of the 800-pound gorilla buyer who’s an early and crucial customer and whose demands and requirements would drive a saint insane. If you’re starting a business and you haven’t seen this particular movie yet, trust me, it’s just a matter of time.
Even though we all say that what start-ups need more than anything else is paying customers, the fact is that one or two big customers don’t make a business and, worse, can actually reduce your chances of success in the long run. Too much dependence on one big customer can
• divert your attention from the real prize, which is to diversify your business among a broad spectrum of customers
• drive you nuts with customization requests that consume scarce resources and make your base product less appealing to the larger population of “regular” customers
• put substantial and unwarranted downward pressure on your pricing, reducing the critical early operating margins that are essential to survival. You need healthy margins as early as possible to give you some breathing room and to offset the mistakes you’re sure to make.
How you negotiate with and respond to these “big dogs” can impact your business for years to come. The outcomes of these negotiations can be critical to
• your ability to fully and fairly price your products and services
• your ability to grow and expand your business according to your best interests
• your ability to secure additional customers, who will often be direct competitors of the initial customers.
One reason a lot of the conversation about these issues is so painfully broad is that there are too many variables for any one approach to cover even the majority of the most typical cases. I understand that one size doesn’t fit all, so I want to give you some ideas for handling just one of the most important and recurring demands that large initial customers can make. It’s likely to raise its ugly head sooner or later, regardless of your industry, product, service, offering, or other circumstances.
It’s the demand for exclusivity, and it’s a killer. You can dodge this bullet with a set of reasonable explanations as to why it’s actually not in the customer’s best interests to insist on exclusivity. If you do this well enough, it may actually sound like you’re doing the customer a favor. This needs to be an ongoing topic of discussion and reinforced regularly with the customer.
My suggestions reflect specific arguments that have consistently worked for me in industries as diverse as automotive, insurance, hospitality and technology. These haven’t exactly worked overnight, and not without some concessions, but in the long run they get the job done.
So you might say: I can’t work exclusively with you because:
• it’s important to both of us that the information, research, evaluations, prices, data, analysis, etc. (we’ll call this “material” from now on) that we are relying upon for you and supplying to you be independent of your organization
• it’s important to both of us that the material be objective and neutral and that the outcomes and results derived from it are fair and unbiased
• it’s important to both of us that we quickly develop an industry standard
• it’s important to both of us that we have enough customers and scale to make the research and development investments that we could not afford on behalf of a single customer
• it’s important to both of us that we grow quickly enough that we can begin to bring our costs down
• it’s important to both of us that, in order to service your requirements nationally, we have other customers in geographies where your business alone would not support a roll-out
Some of these approaches will help and some may not apply at all. Don’t try to use every argument all at once. Negotiations can often be wars of attrition, and you always want to save a fresh argument for next time. But if you work through each of them and try to determine how similar ideas might help support your position, you’ll get a much better outcome than you would going in blind.
And sometimes you just have to take what you can get now and hope that you can get what you want down the road. See how these arguments work for you, but be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Often, the sports metaphor doesn't work so well in business coaching. Here's why.
Knute Kenneth Rockne, of Notre Dame, is widely regarded as college football's greatest head coach. Ever. No head coach has been able to match his successes. From 1918 to 1930, Rockne attained a winning percentage of .881, the greatest of all time.
Sometimes leaders take their cues from Rockne and attempt to emulate his tough, no-nonsense coaching style. But Rockne’s coaching style has its pitfalls when applied to an organizational setting. Sure, a CEO can echo Rockne with a motivational speech once or twice a year, but will such talk result in long-term gains?
If your responsibility is to lead, manage, and supervise people on a daily basis, the sports model of coaching isn’t necessarily going to get you there. It’s crucial that leaders coach, but not necessarily along the lines of a hard-nosed athletic director.
Leaders must realize that there are vast differences between sports coaching and organizational coaching.
The authoritarian athletic coach does not hesitate to use assertive or autocratic action to get the team moving. There is a clear leader-subordinate relationship, where the coach knows the game better than the players.
While this can work in some organizations, it also snuffs out innovation, creativity, and fresh ideas. It can work for a while, but over time rigid work processes can wear down organizational team players.
Focused on driving the other person
In sports, there is a notion that protégés have to be driven to success by their coaches, and that coaches are motivators who mold their protégés and drive them to succeed. Coaches function, foremost and center stage, as motivators.
Workplace coaching is different. Rather than push their protégés along, leaders need to hold their hands and go through each process beside them. Workplace coaching is less about the drill and more about long-term education.
Focused on improvement in one or two areas
While the coach may care about the inner wellbeing of his players, the coach’s primary focus is on getting the team to develop the skills needed for winning. For sports coaches, it all comes down to skills and developing them as rapidly as possible. Other things, such as motivation, preparation, and instruction may be important, but the bottom line is that the players need to develop the skills necessary for success.
Coaching for organizational success is more than just teaching a particular skill set; it's a multifaceted approach with a much broader focus. It is based on the belief that skills are a basic component of victory, but not the only area contributing to it. You want your protégés to possess the necessary skills to accomplish their goals, but you also want them to be cognizant of the dynamics of the organization.
The coaching relationship in sports is predicated on the assumption that it is restricted-;either to the short-term career of the athlete or to a single season. In general, while coaches may speak about long-term relationships with their players, or may be concerned with the long-term development of an individual's capacities, a coach’s relationships with players is constrained by the need to achieve success within a given season-;a considerably restricted time frame.
In an organization, the coaching process and coaching relationship should have a more fluid time frame. The coaching process is meant to be self-reflective; it is a methodology through which individuals may personally discover and enhance their proactive capacity to attain their goals. In this setting, the partnerships between coaches and their protégés should have an elastic time limit.
Single-minded in the pursuit of winning
Of course success is important in the workplace and in educational settings. But in sports, it’s paramount.
In the organizational context, a coach must discourage an obsession with winning. If protégés are too narrowly focused on accomplishing their goals, they might fail to appreciate the value of losing or of making mistakes throughout the process. Although you want protégés to be successful, you also want them to situate their successes within the arc of a learning process.
Coaching cannot be separated from leadership. Great leaders are coaches. Proactive leaders understand that in order to enhance the proactive capacity of others, they must go beyond the traditional skills of supervision, and take on the responsibility of coaching: partnering with all those who work for them as well as those they lead. Proactive leaders understand that coaching creates a learning environment where individual and collective challenges are the first priorities. They must not and cannot be trapped by the sports coaching pitfalls. They are guiding an organization, not a group of athletes in a locker room.
Every company has values. But do you know if yours are boosting your bottomline? Here are six surefire values that will do your company some good.
Is your start-up burning through cash and headed for a wall? Are your best people consumed by infighting or out interviewing for a new job? If so, your start-up may have wrong values. And those badly chosen values encourage the wrong people do the wrong things. That’s because your values determine whether you hire people who will work their hearts out to make your venture successful.
Mistakes in values hurt your start-up’s cash flow, because they cause you to spend money on people and other resources that get you no closer to positive cash flow. If your start-up is prototyping its product, the wrong values delay your ability to get a paying customer. And if you’re on to the customer base stage, the wrong values make it harder to close enough deals to break even.
How do you fix this problem? The first step is to admit your start-up has the wrong values and recognize that you should get outside help to investigate. After all, you might be the source of the problem.
And I would advise that outside helper to get you to ask yourself some questions: What do you consider the most essential values-- smart, ability to listen well, getting stuff done, working well with others? What do your customers value-- quality, service, low price? What five values will help your start-up hire and motivate the best people to prevail in giving customers what they value?
To help you brainstorm, peruse the list of six values from my 2003 book, Value Leadership, which found that the six values that follow helped eight publicly-traded Value Leaders to achieve superior financial and stock market performance.
1. Value human relationships. People make the difference in whether a start-up succeeds or fails. So your start-up should reward people who bring in top talent and motivate them to build effective working relationships with their peers, potential customers, suppliers, partners, and others.
2. Foster teamwork. People who work alone risk undermining your start-up’s survival. To be sure, many great coders are loners who did well on tests. But if you hire people who can’t work well with your start-up’s stakeholders, you risk a talent exodus and burning through your scarce cash.
3. Fulfill your commitments. If you can’t trust people to deliver, your start-up is likely doomed. You must hire people with a well-documented track record of making commitments to other people and delivering what others expect. And once you’ve hired them, you have to fulfill your commitments; reward people who follow that lead and punish the ones that don’t.
4. Fight complacency. If your start-up is going well, you are in danger of thinking that you have all the answers. And that complacency will cause you to ignore threats and opportunities that come to you from other people. To fight complacency, you must maintain intellectual humility and project an air of healthy paranoia--always looking for the dark side when things are good - but also seeing the opportunity in setbacks.
5. Win through multiple means. If your start-up is gaining market share solely because it makes a better product, it could be vulnerable. That’s because a competitor might be able to take away your customers through lower-cost manufacturing, better distribution, and superior customer service. Don’t bet your market position on just one skill; make it hard for competitors to copy your strategy by winning through multiple means.
6. Give to your community. Start-ups don’t have extra money to give to charity--but they should give their peoples’ time and skills back to the community.
Giving to your community is a business imperative because it signals -- to risk-averse employees who may not want to give up a secure job or potential customers who worry you’ll go out of business -- that you believe in your venture’s long-term success.
Once you have the right values, you should spend 20% of your time communicating them to your people repeatedly and use them to hire, promote, and manage people out of the company.
Your investment in the right values will help you give customers what they need - boosting your start-up’s market share and cash flow.
From "the non-responder" to "smiley," each type of investor has his or her own preferences and ways of doing business. Here's how to work with each.
Let’s assume your business has a few things going for it--maybe a lot of things. You have your financial projections under control. You know how to tell your story to investors. But when you interact with different investors, you can still get totally different outcomes, even when the facts about your business don’t change. What’s going on here?
Investors often are making logical, merit-based decisions about where to place their capital. But their own personalities, styles of interacting, and other intangibles matter, too.
Broadly speaking, I have found that there are at least five basic investor types. Recognizing them, and figuring out how you might respond to each, can enhance your chances of raising capital. I will exaggerate here to make the point.
You may already know this type of investor. Email and phone calls go into a black hole. You may even run into this investor in person and try to use that connection to get a better response, but nothing happens.
Your strategy: Be professional in your follow-up a handful of times, but take the message. Either your deal has to be better or they just aren’t that into you. Of course, it’s hard to know what you need to improve with no feedback, but come back when your story is stronger or move on to the next potential investor. Your time is valuable too.
Don't market to me
I always think this is the strangest type of investor--an allocator of capital who doesn’t like to be pitched to--but there are a lot of these folks.
Your strategy: Avoid slickness or heavy marketing. In particular, avoid pinning them with the question of whether or not they will invest. This type of investor needs to see you more than once, start to trust you, and see that you have legitimacy in what you are doing. You need to respect that they have a process and try to get deeper into it, step by step. They will buy when they want to buy, not when you need to sell.
Referrals only, please
Some investors only work with referrals, as they believe their network screens out a lot of slush.
Your strategy: You need to figure out how to get into their referral network. Be creative, and do your homework. Find out what companies they have invested in or who they have invested alongside, and use that as a starting point to network your way to them.
This is a particularly frustrating type of investor. They’re always sunny when you meet with them, and seem positive on your ideas, but then nothing comes of it. You still end up at a no. Often someone junior to them on their team follows up with you and runs their process.
Your strategy: With these investors, you need to build trust and legitimacy with the junior team members too--you are only going to advance back up to Smiley if you make it through the other teammates.
When evaluating an opportunity, investors can say yes, say no, or ask for more data. The data type of investor is always chewing on what you provide, but then asking the next set of questions.
Your strategy: This investor lives on the information you provide back to them, so give them what they are asking for. Your best chance with this investor is to “wow” them with how well you do in providing the requested information. Respond quickly with great work, and truly consider what they are asking you.
Companies will get the attention of investors if they can slot into their processes. You should do your own diligence on an investor in advance to figure out their type and then plan out your approach. This preparation can greatly increase your success rate.
This entrepreneur knows exactly what kinds of apps he'd want for Google's latest technology. Would you like the same?
I bow to no-one in my embrace of new technology, and my first thought when I read about Google Glasses was, How have I been seeing things all these years without them?
Not only do I want my pair now, unlike many of the boring critics with their endless prattle about lost privacy, I also know precisely what I want to use them for.
But unfortunately, I haven't yet found actual apps that will do what I want. So, if some of the script-kiddies circling around Google Glasses with billion-dollar signs in their eyes need any help, here are the top five Google Glasses apps I'd lay out my 99 cents for:
1. Meeting Eyes
Invaluable for those interminable weekly management meetings, with a simple double blink this handy little app simply projects a stored image of your own eyes, suitably animated, on the front of your Google Glasses, while simultaneously dimming the glass at the back of the lenses, thus allowing you to browse your Netflix queue, update your Facebook page, or even sleep--all the while looking engaged, animated, even chirpy.
No longer need you sit through mind-numbing presentations with a fixed rictus grin while your eyes bleed. Now you can give the presenter your full "attention" while actually catching up on the important stuff - like that cat video your brother-in-law sent you.
2. Last Minute Recall
Ah, but what if, while deeply engrossed in last week's episode of Mad Men, someone actually directs a question in your direction?
With "Last Minute Recall", no problem! This devious little app runs constantly in the background, scouring ambient data for any mention of your name. When it detects a question or comment specifically directed to you, it alerts you with a gentle throb of your Google Glasses and instantly replays the question in your ear.
3. The Excuse-Ifier
And that's not all! Purchase "Last Minute Recall" today and we'll instantly upgrade you to V2.0, which includes our patent pending "Excuse-Ifier" add-in!
Now each time "Last Minute Recall" alerts you to a question directed your way, it also flashes on your Google Glasses a context-relevant "Excuse-Ifier".
What's an "Excuse-Ifier"? Simple--instead of stammering out a weak (or worse, wrong) answer to questions you don't care about to begin with, the "Excuse-Ifier" flashes a question for you to ask right back, designed to deflect the attention away from you and back to the presenter.
So the next time that smart-alec Tracy tries to skewer you with a fast one, instead of stalling, umming and ahh-ing, you can zing right back with Tracy, I couldn't help noticing the Y axis in your chart on page 9 is logarithmic, while on the same chart on page 17 it is boolean - can you explain the reason for that?-- all picked up and stored ready for use--while you were busy updating your groceries list.
4. Interview Question Killer
Microsoft hiring managers allegedly like to surprise job candidates with off-the-wall questions like How many gas stations would you estimate there are in the U.S.? Google appears to be obsessed with people who can estimate how many cows there are in China. To get a job with Amazon, apparently you need to know what you would do with a hypothetical million bucks given to you by Jeff Bezos.
Scratch your head no longer. With IQK, you only need alert Google Glasses that you need an answer to the last bizarre interview question (our default alert is to scratch your head just behind the left ear, but this is configurable to other options), and IQK will search it's database of 25,000 dumb interview questions* and will flash the right answer on screen for you.**
* Database updated monthly.
** Interview Question Killer cannot guarantee the answer to any question will be correct, or that you will be asked any questions in the IQK database, or that you will receive a job offer as a result of getting the questions right. Job offers may depend on more than answering questions. Other people may be more qualified than you. your interviewer may be a moron. Are you sure you want to apply for this job in the first place?
WikiWin does one thing, and it does it well: Using your Google Glasses it constantly monitors all facts and data uttered by your work colleagues and checks that information against Wikipedia.
Once it identifies a discrepancy, WikiWin flashes a correction on your lens, together with the appropriate Wikipedia reference, thus allowing you to win any and all office discussions--forever.
WikiWin is free (and always will be), but power users can access WikiWin's advanced options which, for a small fee, will provide the correct information in the form of a rejoinder in any of the following three modes: sarcastic; passive/aggressive or sneering (sneering is in beta).
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.
From iTunes Radio to Rdio, here's a rundown of the biggest players in the streaming music space.
It's official: Apple is in the streaming music business. The company unveiled its much-anticipated streaming music service Monday at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. Dubbed iTunes Radio, the service debuts this fall. It's likely to be a game-changer in a crowded industry that thus far has crowned no clear winner. Here's a look at the leading contenders vying to win the streaming wars.--Jill Krasny
Background: Despite entering a crowded space, iTunes Radio could take online radio mainstream, much like iTunes did with digital music. Specs: Free, but iTunes Radio will be ad-supported, so users will have to pony up for an iMatch subscription, which is a cloud back-up service for music that costs $25/year, to listen ad-free. ITunes Radio will feature a "buy" button hooked up to iTunes, personalized radio stations, and unlimited skips. Will it work? Seeing as how Apple has an ecosystem to fall back on (and plenty to sell), iTunes Radio has plenty of advantages on its side. All three major music labels have signed on, and Apple reportedly negotiated the terms of its advertising payouts to copyright holders in its favor, bypassing the "pureplay" license that has hampered Pandora.
Background: Unveiled during its developer conference, Google's service is mostly notable for beating Apple to the punch. Specs: $9.99 per month for streaming access to "millions" of songs, plus a radio service in the same vein as Pandora, which allows unlimited skips. Is it working? So far, it's received favorable reviews, but it's early yet. The service arrives on iOS soon, and though the Web app isn't quite as elegant as anything Apple has done, it's got enough features to keep users interested.
Background: The "personalized radio" has an enviable user base--70.8 million active users as of May 2013--but not so enviable legal woes and royalty concerns. Specs: Pandora offers a free ad-supported version, though its ads aren't great at targeting users, and an upgraded ad-free service for $3.99 per month or $36 a year. The company plans to expand to game consoles, including the PlayStation, and TV via HTML5</>. Is it working? Definitely not. Despite going public in 2011, royalties and bandwidth are crippling its bottom line growth, though Pandora pays the lowest royalty rate in the industry ($0.12 per 100 songs versus $0.35 per 100 songs by Spotify).
Background: Rdio launched in 2010 and is available worldwide. Last week, CEO Drew Lerner stepped down. Specs: Rdio is known for built-in music discovery and offers three types of monthly subscriptions--Web ($4.99), unlimited Web & mobile ($9.99), and unlimited family ($17.99). "Heavy Rotation" selects music based on what you've been listening to and who you follow, while "Collections" houses playlists in an easy-to-search tab. Is it working? It's hard to tell, but the executive shake-up doesn't inspire confidence. In an interview with Bloomberg, Lerner said "momentum from last year has been tremendous," but declined to give specific figures.
Background: From the makers of Turntable.fm comes Piki, a Pandora-style radio app that serves up songs hand-picked by friends. Launched in December last year, it bills itself as a "music discovery application" that can be used with Spotify. Specs: Free on mobile and desktop, Piki is super social--you can dedicate, share, and build playlists with friends--and has no listening limit. An Android app is due sometime this summer. Is it working? Turntable.fm has kept its user numbers and growth close to the vest. The company is rumored to have raised $7 to $7.5 million at a $37.5 valuation.
Background: In early 2011, Grooveshark's mobile app was pulled by Google and Apple, hampering any potential on mobile. After halving its staff to around 60 and enduring lawsuits from all four major record labels, the start-up is just beginning to regain its footing. Specs: Grooveshark's redesigned free Web app focuses more on recommendations and social profiles. Drag-and-drop is possible, ads are all but nonexistent, and listeners can build playlists from previously streamed tracks. A premium, no-ads version goes for $9 per month or $90 per year. Is it working? Not really. Co-founder and CEO Sam Tarantinotold Mashable he's broke and is trying to lower his rent. Grooveshark's user numbers are back around 30 million and its HTML5 player now has 3 million monthly users, with 200,000 new users joining every month.
Background: The New York City-based start-up has received its share of press, but has struggled to scale in a meaningful way. Specs: Songza's free "Music Concierge" service recommends playlists by mood, which is a potential differentiator in a crowded market. Is it working? Not yet. The company raised a $1.5 million convertible note from some notable investors late last year, and 2 million new users joined last summer. But it still hasn't said how it plans to monetize nor has it figured out a way to add users. The Associated Press reports Songza racked up 2 million listeners in May last year versus 1.2 billion on Pandora's website.
Long-term overwork doesn't just cause physical exhaustion and a short temper. Here are some less expected tells that you're on your last reserves.
Exhaustion isn’t just easy to identify, it’s actually pretty impossible to ignore. Fuzzy thinking, a short temper, drooping eyelids, and the need to practically hook yourself up to the coffee pot with an IV drip are all tried and tested signs that you’re physically spent.
But burnout is a more complex beast.
Sure, you can get physically burnt out and feel any of the above symptoms, but sometimes burnout is more about monotony, lack of motivation, empty creative reserves or the slow but steady accumulation of little stressors and slightly too long workdays. This sort of burnout can creep up on you, slowly changing the way you function at work and at home and go unrecognized until it reaches a final, critical stage.
So how can you recognize this sort of creeping burnout and intervene before it tanks your productivity, alters your personality, and compromises your physical and emotional health? Experts have suggestions. For the real deep dive, Mind Tools offers a 15-question burnout self-test to score and evaluate exactly how worn out you are. But Business Insider offered a more quick and dirty guide to the signs recently. The signals of impending burnout the post outlines include some that you may be less aware of:
Inability to concentrate: The post quotes David Ballard of The American Psychological Association, who explains that the human brain is only designed to handle short bursts of stress. "When stress becomes chronic, this narrow focus continues for a long time and we have difficulty paying attention to other things,” he says.
Guilt: “You're constantly working, but can't seem to get all of your work done (maybe because your work load is too heavy or you can't concentrate) and you eventually feel guilty for not completing your work, which leads to working even more.”
Frequent mood changes: “A report published by the NASW Assurance Services, Inc., says that burnout may cause emotional exhaustion and a loss of a sense of personal accomplishment, and therefore lead to depersonalization, alienation, and depression,” reports BI.
Social isolation: Burnout leads to depression which can lead us to isolate ourselves from others which leads to yet more depression, and thus begins a vicious cycle. “When people are burnt out, they will start feeling ashamed about their work and will start to isolate themselves from others and decrease the number of social interactions they're involved in,” says the post.
Increased drinking: “If you find yourself at happy hour a bit too much, this could be a coping mechanism to avoid all the feelings that are weighing you down. The Mayo Clinic asks potentially burnt out workers if they are using food, drugs, or alcohol.”
If all of this is setting off alarm bells of recognition, what can you do about it? If you’re adventurous (and solvent), taking a sabbatical is a radical cure that has a high likelihood of knocking you out of your rut. But if you, like many, are too tied down to empty your desk and strap on a backpack, there are other interventions that can help.
When addressing the topic of recovering from burnout, everyone from doctors to tapped out creative types to techies with marathon workweeks leads with the same key bit of advice-- enlist the support of others. The first step to recovery is to get your mood and energy levels back up a bit and your perspective readjusted. Seeing loved ones is a surefire way to expand your focus beyond your work and raise your happiness levels (exercise, as always, also helps, but you knew that already).
Once that’s accomplished you should have the mental and physical resources to start thinking about more practical steps such as delegating more, developing a healthier relationship with your communication tools, setting boundaries a work or starting a side project or hobby.
What’s your best tip for those in burnout recovery mode?
iOS 7 got a makeover and iTunes Radio made its debut at the Worldwide Developers Conference Monday.
Apple unveiled a wide range of products and updates at its 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference Monday.
Among the highlights were Apple's new operating system OS X Mavericks, iTunes Radio, iCloud Keychain, and the new-and-improved iOS 7, which Apple CEO Tim Cook called "the biggest change to iOS since the beginning of iPhone."
"Can't innovate anymore my a**," added Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing.
Here's what you need to know.
OS X Mavericks
Mac's new operating system has a "deep-tech focus," according to Cook, that includes an extended battery life and features that appeal to "power users." Among those improvements are finder and document tags, and a "supercharged" Mission Control. CPU utilization rapidly compresses inactive memory, thereby freeing up space for more data and cutting battery usage.
The so-called Pandora killer is finally here. Part of iOS 7, which arrives this fall in the U.S., iTunes Radio lets users build stations and skip as they please--a big plus for frustrated Pandora users. The streaming music service can also track what you've played across several devices, and will feature an iTunes buy button. Also notable: It will come pre-loaded with stations and track what's trending on Twitter.
The service will be free with an iTunes Match subscription.
Cook said Apple's operating system is used on more 600 million devices. Now it will feature a flatter interface (so long, skeumorphism) and a camera that "is four cameras in one," as Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, put it. The new operating system also includes upgrades to Safari, a male-voiced Siri, and automatic updates from the App Store (big applause for that one).
Apple's new iCloud Keychain helps users store passwords and credit card information across various websites and Wi-Fi networks.
The new feature can also auto-store credit card numbers and expiration dates, except for security codes, which must be re-entered each time they're used.
Gesture technology may make touchscreens obsolete. These companies are leading the charge.
Touch screens may already be on the road to extinction. People will be able to tap the air, causing the kitchen light to brighten or a page to turn on a tablet. A snap of the fingers will start a song. To an outsider, we’ll appear telekinetic.
Computer scientists have begun developing gesture-recognition technology that will manipulate devices throughout the home, on a variety of platforms and devices. Here’s a look at some of the ingenuity that may make our lives more like a CSI lab or Philip K. Dick novel.EyeSight
Gesture technology frequently uses webcams or other sensors to identify movement. EyeSight, an Israeli firm, requires a basic Webcam that can be connected to cars, computers, televisions, and other devices. With a range of fifteen feet, the technology can open a browser, turn on the car radio, or answer a call. The company has developed models for Windows, Android, and Linux, and is working with many hardware vendors--it’s already been incorporated in Lenovo’s recent Ultrabooks.Thalmic Labs
Thalmic Labs, based in Ontario, created the MYO band, which is supposed to ship at the end of the year. Worn on the arm, the device monitors electrical activity and muscular movement, recognizing gestures and connecting the real and digital worlds. The band utilizes Bluetooth to talk to devices, detecting movements within milliseconds of initiation--often appearing prescient. As seen in the lab's promotional video, anything from laptops to speakers to ATVs can be controlled by the band, which costs only $149. Thalmic, formed in 2012, had raised a $1 million seed round and subsequently a $14.5 million Series A round.3dim
An MIT student, Andrea Colcoa, has invented a platform for smartphones. The team, which won the MIT $100K entrepreneurship competition, is designing technology that will digitally display keyboards on hard surfaces (i.e., a desk), enabling easier typing on phones and tablets. The system can be adapted to work with wearable devices or those without touchscreens, such as Google Glass.WiSee
A University of Washington team has gone a step further-creating the ‘WiSee’ technology. Using wi-fi signals to monitor movements without a sensor or camera, the system is founded on the Doppler effect. Because wi-fi doesn’t require line-of-sight, the technology would encompass an entire household with only a few receivers.
So far, WiSee can recognize nine body gestures, noting the frequency change in wi-fi waves as the source moves. In order to distinguish intentional gestures from those arising in conversation, the software requires a repetitive gesture to serve as a preamble or password.
Gesture technology is already being seen in recent conversations, as well as on the market. Xbox Kinect uses two cameras to monitor movements as well as respond to aural signals. A Norwegian company, Elliptic Labs, launched gesturing technology based on ultrasonic signals transmitted from tiny speakers embedded in the phone. PointGrab tracks hand movements from 5 meters away, using algorithms to convert finger movement onto a cursor coordinate grid.
New user interfaces are burgeoning the ways we can manipulate software, coming closer to the plethora of ways humans communicate. A new computing generation will be born with these UIs, as people find themselves surrounded and embedded in a technology culture.