Don’t Turn the Other Cheek

businessman yellingGrowing up I was always taught that when someone treats you poorly that you have to be the better person. It’s also what most religions seem to teach. I’ve never bought into that. Not even as a child. I always believed that actions should have consequences. Maybe it’s because, when I was a little kid, all my actions had consequences. If I stepped out of line, I was punished. Then my brother came along. He stepped out of line, but he didn’t always get punished. I, on the other hand, continued to be. I was older and was supposed to “know better.” After awhile, I thought his behavior was getting out of hand and I usually caught the flack for it even though I was behaving better than he was. So, no matter the consequence to me, I became a vigilante. I gave his bad actions “consequences.” Did I get in trouble a lot? For awhile, yes. Eventually, he shaped up. Miracle of miracles, we both started getting in trouble a lot less.

Now, you’re probably thinking that this type of situation is only applicable to children. I’ll agree that it tends to be worse with children, but children are just little people. What I experienced as a kid was just conditioning. Adults are just as susceptible to conditioning as children are. Imagine if every time you walked past your boss’ desk to go to the bathroom he yelled, “Haven’t you gone to the bathroom enough today?” You’d probably start holding it a lot longer, even if it wasn’t healthy for you to do so.

The same thing applies to people that treat you poorly or even bully you at work. If you let them treat you like that or try to respond back to their animosity with being nice and helpful, you’ll only reinforce their unacceptable behavior. This is something that I’ve seen firsthand and heard from others secondhand countless times. Some people are just nasty to everyone at work. When you respond to their nastiness with sweetness and try to win them over, they keep the nastiness flowing. Often, they focus their nastiness more on those that are nicest to them.

Why? That’s simple. If someone gave you a hundred dollars every time you smacked them, would you smack them every day? I don’t like hitting people, but even I might. Well bullies are self interested individuals as well. If you give them positive reinforcement for their nastiness, they will continue their nasty behavior.

Now, don’t get confused and think I’m advocating yelling at a nasty coworker. Some people are actually looking for a fight. Then you would be playing right into their hands. What I’m advocating is not giving the person the idea that their behavior is correct or, worse yet, desirable. If necessary, you might have to tell them that the way that they are treating you is not alright and you’re not going to tolerate it. How you handle the situation depends on your relationship with the offending person, your job and the overall work environment. Just remember that trying to tough it out isn’t necessarily the best thing for your health. It also probably isn’t going to solve your problem.

Now Out of the Box!

cardboard boxYesterday, I was focused on thinking inside boxes. Today, I was reminded to think outside the box again by an article from Erica Sadun over on TUAW.com. The article detailed how Big Nerd Ranch CEO Aaron Hillegass worked around Apple’s Developer NDA in order to train students to use iOS even though his company was under an NDA to not speak to anyone about it.

You wondering about his angle? It was brilliant. He hired all his students as contractors. As contractors, he could discuss iPhone development with them. So, that allowed him to teach them how to develop for iOS. Now, of course, it’s not enough to say someone is a contractor. There needs to be work done and money exchanged. So, each student was under contract to deliver one line of code by the end of the course and he paid them $1 for that work. Loop complete and NDA breach avoided. It was very neatly done.

Now, I need to find a way to think outside the box and flip that paradigm around. How can I get people to pay to work for me? A paid apprenticeship maybe? Hmmm…I actually think that could work for some people. It would probably have a higher return than a lot of degrees these days. I might just have to look into that.

Think Inside the Boxes!

woman workingI happened across an article on LIfehacker the other day by Robby Macdonell, which really resonated with me. It advocated “Location Boxing” to get your brain to switch gears between different styles of thinking. The suggestion is that when you need to switch the type of work you are doing, changing your physical situation can help you more quickly and successfully transfer your brain from your last task to the next one.

This is an interesting thought and one that I think makes a lot of sense. It reminds me of a study I read about years ago. It said that people associate what they are learning with the place they learned it at. So, if you studied math in your room, you would remember the math and perform it better in that room. If you practiced your speech in the room you were going to be giving the speech in, you would remember the speech better when it came time to talk than if you memorized it in your car and presented it in a theater.

So, I can see where logically it makes sense that if you usually do analytical thinking in a certain setting, then your brain would gear for that type of thought when you settle back into that setting. It definitely seems to be the case for me. If I sit down at the kitchen table to do some work, I take longer to settle into work than if I sit down in my office. The difference between the spaces is that I’m usually distracted at the kitchen table and in my office I only sit down and work. The funny thing is that even when I’m home alone, with no distractions, I take longer to be able to get completely focused at the kitchen table. If I’m in my office and a distraction pops up, on the other hand, I’m able to dismiss it more quickly.

The article really served as a reminder that I need to get a little better at choosing where I work on certain tasks. I need to make a point to only doing nonessential, quick tasks in the kitchen. My serious work needs to happen in my office. Now I just need to pick a better location for brainstorming and creative pursuits. I’ll give a few spots a try over the next few weeks.

Don’t Get Carried Away

Sometimes, I think that people get way too carried away by themselves or their companies. They come up with a cool slogan or “core value” and then they hammer that home for all it’s worth. It’s almost as if they think that staying true to some ideal or staying consistent with a specific practice, even when it stops making sense, will either inspire their employees or wow the public.

It doesn’t work. People are inspired by companies that produce great products. Employees, investors, customers, it doesn’t matter. Nobody is impressed by slogans or core values. People are impressed by actions and the products or services that are delivered. They don’t care as much about what went into creating them, just that they exist in the world. I’ve lived those empty BS words when I was a consultant. Clients didn’t care about our “synergistic paradigms” or our “best of breed solutions.” They only cared that we delivered what they needed.

Even though we knew that the words were BS and marketing speak, it seemed like the more they were repeated, the more people started to believe them. Maybe that’s truly the point. I never really saw any true benefit from that though, so I question whether or not it had any value. A lot of the verbiage that was used must have seemed either terribly impressive or terribly empty to people. I wonder which it was most of the time.

To see how silly people can get with their “core competencies,” check out this video from Vooza:

Free Education

ABC's on blackboardThere may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as a free education. At least there is now. That’s the beauty of living in the world we live in today. You used to have to go to school or buy a bunch of books or videos in order to learn a skill. These days you can take free courses online through sites like Udacity, Codecademy, Khan Academy or even iTunes University.

So, there is really no excuse to say that you don’t have enough money to learn a new skill or that you can’t fit it into your schedule. There are so many classes online that you can take for free. The great thing about these free online courses is that not only are they free, but you can take them whenever you have time and at your own pace. That allows you to fit an education into almost any schedule.

I have taken a few online courses through the years. Right now I’m taking some programming courses to update my coding skills and learn a couple new languages. They’re really great. I’m actually learning much faster than I did when I was in college. Although, I’m not sure if that’s because of me and my situation or the classes. Regardless, I have to say that the online courses are light years ahead of where they were 6-7 years ago, which is the first time I took real online courses. In many ways, they are becoming better than traditional courses.
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The Consensus Is Wrong

Business People At Race Starting LineDo you want to change the world? Do you want to make a difference? Forget about consensus. Everyone believes that discussing things and arriving at a group consensus in a democratic fashion is the fair way to make a decision. They also mistakenly believe that it will arrive at the right decision. That somehow people will build upon each others ideas and logically arrive at a decision that is better than any one person’s idea. That’s wrong.

When a group gets together to make a decision, people think that everyone in the group is trying to contribute to make the best decision. In theory, they are. In reality, almost everyone is competing with everyone else, to some degree, to get their idea selected. So, that makes people focus more on lobbying to get their idea selected than in selecting the best idea. Often, that results in people chipping away at an idea until everyone is satisfied with it enough to agree on it. So, if someone had an A+ idea and someone had an F level idea and the rest are in the B-C range, you often end up with a B level idea, at best.

If the team’s idea survives long enough to be worked on and developed for awhile, improvements can hopefully be made. Ideally though, you want to start with the best idea and go from there. That way you aren’t working your way back to the best idea that was presented before. This is the tricky part. How do you select the best idea when everyone doesn’t agree?

There are tricks to getting this done, but there is no one way that works for every team. In the past, I’ve found the best way to involve listing out all the ideas on the whiteboard and having everyone add pros and cons for each. Then you go through the cons and see if they are really cons. Sometimes a con ends up being unintended, but useful side effects. Then weight the level of each pro and con. Usually, one or two ideas will surface to the top. At that point, have a debate over which is the better choice. Then pick the best choice. After the choice is made, schedule another meeting to discuss the choice and what might be done to strengthen it.
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The Search For Quality

Businessman looking through binocularsPeople everywhere are jumping on the app creation bandwagon. Some have development skills and some don’t. I’m constantly amazed at the things I find on the app store. For all that people complain about Apple as gatekeepers, there is a lot of junk on their App Store. We would be much better off not being inundated with obviously poorly made apps when we’re searching for apps. At the very least, we’d be much better off if there was a decent way to surface the best apps based upon what we’re looking for.

This issue is not limited to finding apps on the app store though. Finding good plumbers, doctors, even employees is not so simple. You can’t say, “Hey, I want to hire a great developer today!” And tada! You have one. While finding a great developer and finding a great app are quite different, thinking about how to find a better app gives some insights into how you could find a better employee.

If you’re looking for a great app, you can start by asking people what they like. If you trust the people you ask to know what they’re talking about, at least you have somewhere to start from. You can also ask them about their thoughts on any apps you’re considering. The same approach can be applied to looking for employees. Ask your friends or your employees if they have anyone that they would recommend. That will give you a good place to start interviewing from at least. (more…)

Who Am I?

Businessman MeditatingI contemplated this question when I took this morning off from work and the internet to spend some time at the spa with my wife. She had signed us up for a couple much needed massages. My wife, being the health and exercise minded person that she is, suggested we work out before. After a workout and a shower, I was relaxed and ready for a massage. It turned out that I was ready 15 minutes early, so I found myself waiting alone in the lounge in a robe with nothing to do, but sip tea and think. (The men & women had separate lounges.)

With nothing else to do, I decided to meditate a bit.  I had been intending to start meditating again and this seemed a good opportunity to start. I took a couple of sips of my tea and settled into my chair. I cleared my head my head a few times, but one question kept popping up: “Who am I?” That is an important question for anyone to ask themselves periodically, especially an entrepreneur at the start of a new venture. So, I decided that I would meditate on that a bit while I waited. In the process, I realized a few things about who I am and about why the question is important in the first place. For the purpose of this post, I think the second part is more important.

The question, “Who am I?” is important because it forces you to look at and consider your:

  1. interests
  2. passions
  3. dreams
  4. goals
  5. strengths
  6. limitations
  7. motivations
  8. values

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A Starting Point

ooomf.com logoSo, you’re working on an app and want somewhere to see if you know everything you need to know? Well, to see how you’re doing, you can check out Ooomf.com’s tips to sharpen your skills in app development. They have a lot of helpful resources in every area of the process, including creating the idea, prototyping, design, coding, promotion and more.

It’s a good way for people who are new to developing apps to learn a little bit more about the process and see how they’re doing. At the very least, it should help them avoid certain pitfalls and identify where they truly need help and where they don’t.

Perfectionism Is Dangerous!

Multiple BullseyesI was reminded the other day by an article by Joshua Rivera of Lifehacker that you have to be careful about trying to achieve perfection in whatever you create. He linked to a video with the late David Foster Wallace from when he spoke on the topic of ambition on the PBS show, “Blank on Blank”.

The key point of the video comes in the first 30 seconds. He said that the danger of perfectionism is that you don’t want to finish something because if you finish it, you have to come to terms with the fact that what you created wasn’t as perfect as you had imagined it to be in your head.

That’s really a good way to look at it. I’m well aware of that same tendency in myself to want to keep working on something, but I have fought against it over the years. Eventually, I started a new check on this tendency of mine, by setting checkpoints of when aspects of whatever I was working on should be completed. When I reached that point, if I wasn’t finished, I had to decide if I wasn’t finished because it wasn’t the idealized version that I had in my head or because the product was not good enough for whatever purpose it was intended. If the idea was good enough, but could be significantly better with a small investment of time, I put in that additional time. If taking the product to the next level would involve a disproportionate amount of time, I had to move on.

This process was very hard for me at first. Entrepreneurs and creative people (which often overlap) hate putting something out in the world that isn’t the best that they can create. So, they often don’t put the product out until far later than they should. That sometimes leads to time wasted on a product that nobody ended up wanting or the opportunity for a competitor to establish their product before the entrepreneur’s product is released. That realization is what has made me religious about my new process.  As a result, I’ve gotten a lot better at releasing products when they should be rather than when they’re “finished”. That has been uncomfortable at times, but has resulted in a lot more products that I have created being released into the world than if I had hung onto them until perfection.

The bottom line is: If it’s good enough; ship it!