Thursday, November 29, 2012

Too Old to Be An Entrepreneur?

A well known venture capitalist and admitted “old guy” named Vinod Khosla, (he’s 57 years old) was reported to have said at a conference last year that "people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas." (Please don’t tell my wife, I pretty much bet our house on my ability to start a really clever new business). This Vinod guy is really smart and he explained that he did not mean that old folks can’t do clever stuff; they just need to be more fearless. I guess he’s never seen me in my Super Suit.
I read that quote in an article by Sarah McBride , of Reuters entitled: Silicon Valley's dirty little secret: age bias
I got a kick out of some examples Ms McBride used to show how apparently we have to learn to dress more like 20-somethings:
In one case she mentioned a 60 year old guy (I am getting dangerously close to that milestone) who shaved off his gray hair and traded in his loafers for a pair of Converse sneakers before heading into an interview. He got hired. Later in the article, this same guy goes on to say: In person, older job applicants should carry a backpack, not a briefcase and they should avoid Blackberries and Dell laptops in favor of Android phones and Apple products. And above all, steer clear of wristwatches. "The worst would be a gold Rolex," he says. "Tacky, and old."  (If only I could afford a Rolex – I might be happy to be tacky)
In another example from the article, a 40-something market researcher (is 40 old?) headed to a boutique popular with young women for advice on "something to look hip" and "blend in" before she went to her interview. She ditched her tailored pants and blouses for a dress, tights, and biker boots. She eventually got the position. 
So I am wondering, if I shave my nearly bald but graying head, buy a dress and some tights and put on some Converse sneakers, will I be more attractive to venture capitalists? Or do you think that would be taking it too far? I really could use the money!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Santa – Where do Ideas Come From?

Are there answers outside my window – I sure hope so because I spend a lot of time staring out it.

Where do great ideas come from? I see an article or blog post expounding the secrets to finding great ideas about twice per week. Some of these are written as exercise routines: “How to Train Your Brain”. Some are written as cook books: “The Recipe to Generating Great Ideas”. And some are like self help guides: “The 5 Steps to Great Ideas”.

I've tried them all.  This year I am just going to ask Santa.

I've been fortunate to have a few good ideas in my career and, in my experience, they all come from different places and are generated under wildly different circumstances. I am now in search of another (hopefully) great idea.

But where will the idea come from?

My partner, Steve Minton, and I started a new company 6 months ago. We are both working on it (somewhat) part time. Our first task is to generate ideas about what kind of company we want to be and what kind of product(s) we want to build. This process is a whole lot of fun. But it is also a lot harder than I thought it would be.

So I got to thinking. Maybe there is an easier way. So far, here’s my list:
  1. Hope Santa will leave me an idea in my stocking
  2. Stare out my window some more and hope an idea flies by
  3. Write a book about finding great ideas and pretend I know what I’m talking about
  4. Be an idea consultant and tell everyone else how to find ideas
  5. Buy a Powerball Lottery ticket and just forget about it
Or – I can just keep putting in a lot of hard work, be willing to fail a few times, and stick with it until I get it right.

I’m heading out for the Powerball Ticket (just to hedge my bets).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thoughts for Thanksgiving

“Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.” –Robert Caspar Lintner

“Stand up, on this Thanksgiving Day, stand upon your feet. Believe in man. Soberly and with clear eyes, believe in your own time and place. There is not, and there never has been a better time, or a better place to live in.” –Phillips Brooks

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.~ W. T. Purkiser

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.” –Cicero

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
—Melody Beattie

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” –John F. Kennedy

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.― Ralph Waldo Emerson

What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal. ~Albert Pine

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~ Leo F. Buscaglia

And - A little Thanksgiving Humor...

“Thanksgiving, when the Indians said, “Well, this has been fun, but we know you have a long voyage back to England”. –Jay Leno
 “I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.” –Jon Stewart

Thursday, November 15, 2012

5 Things That Will Change HR Forever

When people talk about HR trends they tend to look at what we do today and discuss ways it can be done better in the future. Applications and tools for recruiting, training, on-boarding, etc. are being developed at dizzying rates. Problem is – these new HR innovations are going to have a short half life.

Another way to look at HR trends is to look at the way business is changing.

The changes in technology, employee motivation, globalism, and resource mobility, just to name a few dynamics, will dramatically affect the way companies work in the future, which will mean that a lot of the things human resource professionals spend time on today won’t even be a part of the equation in the future.

The 5 trends that will radically change HR Innovation in the future are:
  1. No one will want to work for you: When you look out over that vast forest of cubicles they will be either empty or they will be populated with people you've never seen before because the majority of your resources will be “just in time” contractors and consultants brought in to get a project done.
  2. Resources will be for sale in a giant resource bazaar: When you need to find someone you don’t post a job you surf a network.
  3. You won’t just hire a person, you’ll hire their network: People will be much more comfortable working together to solve problems. The best resources don’t just show up with good individual skills, they show up with a network of resources that can help get the job done. (Think that is far fetched – talk to a Director, Producer or Editor in the entertainment industry!)
  4. Middle management will (finally) go away: Middle management was created because people couldn't manage 100 direct reports. In the future, 100 direct reports won’t be a problem anymore. Work will be done in work units naturally structured around projects and work clusters. Everyone will follow the rules because they will be built into the project workflow application.
  5. No one will get benefits from their employer: Because people will stop working full time for only one company, people will get their insurance through co-ops and exchanges. Companies are lousy at benefits anyway!

In this new world HR will serve as a resource coordinator. HR will be like a grand orchestra leader, making sure that all the moving parts are there when you need them, can play to the same sheet of music and can come in on the right beat. Think in terms of the Player Personnel function on sports teams.

And such beautiful music it will be. Play on maestros! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Persist Through the C.R.A.P. Getting New Ideas Done

If you are out to start a new business or try a new product idea within a large company, it often feels like everything and everyone is out to stop you. You aren't paranoid: they are.

Persistence is probably the most important element of success (as long as you can afford it).

Richard St John gave a TED Talk which he entitled: Secretes of Success in 8 Words.  In this presentation he discusses what he thinks are 8 concepts that drive success. You can watch it, it’s good, and it is only 3 minutes long so it won’t take up much company time. Of all the 8 words, the one word that resonated the most was Persistence. He states that you'll need persistence because you will face a lot of C.R.A.P.

C – Criticism
R – Rejection
A – Assholes
P – Pressure

In the last company I worked with we had a lot of people who specialized in what I called Drive By Shootings: you know these events. It is when some manager or "fiefdom owner" decides to offer their opinion without taking time to really understand your idea. They simply drive by, offer up negative bile, and move on. You are left to deal with it. I also call them the fast and the furious.

But, if you really believe in your idea, you persist.

Most ideas are doomed to begin with because they challenge old assumptions. That always brings out the critics; especially those who are vested in the old assumptions. If you are going out on the limb of innovation, you have to understand that the limb (can be) strong, but it also has to be flexible enough to sway a bit under pressure. I worked with one product development manager at a very large firm a few years back who told me his secret to success was constant gentle pressure relentlessly applied. That frustrated me because things took too long.

I thought starting my own business would mean I could move at “light speed:” No one to stop me or hold me back. That turns out to be only partially true. What I have found is that persistence is even more critical in a new start up. There are many obstacles to success. You fight problems of capital access, client development, staffing-on-faith (people who will work for next to nothing in hopes of a big someday something) and multiple people who offer their opinions about why your idea stinks.

So I guess what I gained most from watching Richard St John's short video was that if you really want to succeed, and you really believe in your idea, then persevere through all the C.R.A.P.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Recovering from Company Disasters

As people up and down the east coast struggle with the effects of yet another storm, I started thinking about how companies respond when faced with severe problems. A key question that comes to mind:

Is disaster response a lot easier than disaster recovery?

The recent headlines about the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy are no longer about the devastation. They now talk about how long it is taking to relieve the suffering left in the hurricane’s wake. Sometimes the process of getting people back on track is a lot harder than managing the original disaster.

In my career I have been called on several times to do organizational “disaster recovery.” I worked with a firm for several years helping them turnaround difficult acquisitions. I recall one company in particular where the employees, the managers and the customers were so dysfunctional that it was a wonder that any work got done at all. I vividly remember the HR Director meeting with me and several other senior executives from the acquiring company. With a serious look on his face (and I think a sense of empathy for my plight) he turned to me and said: “Think of it this way Jerry, at least you have a lot of room for improvement.”

He was right. We saw the disaster as a chance to make things, not just better, but truly great.

The employees, managers and customers (and suppliers) were starving for relief.

As with all disasters, the first step is to stem the bleeding. Disaster recovery really is a lot like emergency room triage. You have to relieve those things that cause the most suffering first. In the case of the victims of Sandy, it is things such as housing, electricity, clean water, heat, safety. When a company is in disaster recovery it is usually about trust, poor communications, and dysfunctional processes. If you can plug a few of the worst holes, you can give yourself time to work on the foundation that will completely turn the situation around.

That is the key to recovering from any kind of disaster: First make sure the people’s biggest needs are met and then move on to creating bigger changes. Thankfully I have never had to deal with the level of suffering that a hurricane can create. But my experience with the very real suffering a poorly run organization creates suggests that people who have experienced it are ready and eager for something better. They just need someone to take charge (and remember there are people involved).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Vote HR: It Is All About Responsibility

We are all sick and tired of the political advertisements, the robo-calls (that’s one technology I wish they’d zap with a ray-gun), the mud-slinging and the unseemly pandering. But at the end of the day none of that matters – what matters is that we make democracy work by exercising our personal responsibility to:


I saw a great political cartoon in the local paper today (I live in Fort Collins, Colorado – so LOCAL really means local. I think the vote for Homecoming King got equal billing this morning) but anyway the cartoon basically went like this: In the first panel it showed the White House and said “The site of the second most powerful person in the nation” and the second panel showed a polling booth with a person in it and said “The site of the first most powerful person in the nation.”

I also woke up to the inspiring stories on the news about people standing in lines in New York, New Jersey and other areas affected by Hurricane Sandy to go vote. Many of these people lost their homes, have no heat, have ruined basements, or cars without gas. But they took the time to vote!

As people who work, innovate and explore the issues of Human Resources, we have a special duty to show how important it is to meet our responsibilities. And today that responsibility is to get out and vote! Voting is all about responsibility and voting is the responsibility we all accepted when we decided to be part of a democracy. There really is no difference between the responsibility as a citizen to vote and the responsibility as an employee to do our job.

Today – our job is to vote.

I’m Jerry Thurber and I approve this message