Don't fall in love with your product or process

it happens before you know it

Early in my career I took a job with a software company that built supply chain and marketing solutions.  Over the course of the next decade I worked with 100’s of companies, launched several multimillion-dollar solutions and rose in ranks, ultimately becoming one of their executives responsible for over 80% of the payroll and running every department outside of sales-marketing and finance. 

In the beginning we were like a start-up.  I was part of a handful of coders that did whatever it took to keep things running. Which included being mavericks and many all-nighters with lots of cold pizza and mountain dew.  Over the years we solidified our processes and established a sound way on how things should be done.

As the company grew the importance of not screwing up also grew.  Because of this we unknowingly became risk adverse and rarely wandered from our proven processes because one misstep impacted thousands.

At the time we didn’t realize, but change became a challenge.  We knew what worked and introducing something new was perceived as too risky and at the time it not only worked but was necessary as we earned the industry’s confidence.

It is easy to Fall in Love when you're good at it

In software we use the term “tech stack”.  A technology stack is a collection of technologies that are proven to play nice with each other. For the most part they tend to work in layers, so they are visualized as a stack.   In a perfect world, you pick a tech stack and stay as loyal as you can to it.  From staffing to infrastructure to processes and functionality all decisions are determined or at the very least influenced by the stack.

In our early years, we were an exclusive Microsoft shop and a real good one at that.  I have worked with office floors full of software engineers from PhDs to Intel Fellows and I would pick working with this group over any of them.  What we did with .Net and a handful of PowerEdge Servers was beyond impressive.  I thought doing anything outside of our stack was crazy and for the longest time it was not a risk I was willing to take.

Love is blind (and makes you stupid)

With a new CEO there was a huge push to move towards some of the new tech stacks creating nothing less than my worst nightmare.   At the time it was painful even to consider and next to building software that ran on a Mac it was the one thing I swore I would never do.  For months I was resisting the idea and even had a letter of resignation in an unmarked envelope under my keyboard ready to hand to my new boss (CEO) the day he walked into my office and told me do it or else. 

About time you came to your senses

It was touch and go for a while.  My CEO’s frustration was high because he was new with fresh ideas and as an outsider with a completely different perspective he could see things none of us could.  Thankfully he stuck with me and after many conversations and working through everything I eventually began to see things in a different light.

His two most influential points were “You can’t improve without change” and “When you set your own limits you will never push yourself further than you think you can go“.  His fresh perspective on what we could be doing opened the possibility that I might be limiting our potential.  If we were going to go further than ever before maybe we did need to change.  So we did.

It was hard to believe

The result was one of the most innovative solutions of my twenty plus years. It transformed the company’s product line and smashed through many of the limitations the entire industry always battled.  When I presented our biggest client the very first version he was shocked and couldn’t believe what he had witnessed.  He required prove the solution was live and that I wasn’t using demo trickery and tomfoolery. 

On the 5 hour plane ride home I took the time to reflect on why I was so resistant.  In hindsight I was so in love with what we had been doing and how good we were at it the idea of change was not only nauseating but blinding. I was so attached I couldn’t see the forest through the trees and blindly set limitations.   But more importantly without the fresh perspective I would have never known and missed a huge opportunity.

All businesses need that perspective

If you run a business, you must be willing to accept the idea that you could be unknowingly creating limitations far below your company’s potential.  Avoid getting too attached and do not fall in love with a product or process. Get that outside perspective to keep things crisp and make sure you are not creating problems you are not set up to see.  

 

If you could work less and make more wouldn’t you want to do it?  If so, you are going to need to make some changes.  Have someone challenge everything you do.  I am sure you are doing most things exactly the way they should be done.  But if there are one or two things you could do better and you just can’t see it?   These could be the one or two things that could transform your business and take it to a whole new level.  A level you didn’t even know existed.

When was the last time you had a fresh set of eyes on your business?  How do you know you are not in love?

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I wanted to share this article I found on Entrepreneur’s news feed because it is a real-life example on several points I always try to drive home with my clients.
1.) Best products come from solving a problem
2.) Don’t fall in love with your products. Be willing to accept sometimes they suck.
3.) Measure everything. If its worth doing it is worth measuring.
4.) Surround yourself with greatness.  Don’t be the smartest one in the room.
5.) Prioritize what you do best. Delegate everything else
6.) You’re not in business to employ. You’re in businesses to make money.
7.) Culture is defined by the look on your face. It starts at the top, your teams feed off how you present.
Side Note: Quizlet is something I have used and highly recommend.  When my son was 13 he asked if he could load it on his phone.  Like all his apps I have to try them before I let them on his device.  I would like to say its because of my awesome parenting skills but I know deep down it’s because I really want to check out the UI/UX.
The app was simple but what I noticed right away was the adoption by students and the ease of sharing.  Within minutes my son had found all his vocab words from a previous years student and was quickly studying through a means he naturally utilized, his phone.  It is no surprise that it went viral and exploded into success as teens take to it like fish to water.  Now well into high school he uses it all the time for many of his subjects and is constantly collaborating with classmates.  It has pretty much become a mission critical study tool.
The biggest take-a-way was this app made me realize his generation is so connected to mobile devices pulling his phone out to study for a few minutes when the moment presents itself is automatic. But letting him study “his way”  I have never had to bug him about preparing for a vocab quiz or test since.  It has become second nature.  So make sure you ask your student what they are doing before you bark “put your phone away”.
Anyway, give the below article a read I think you will find it interesting.  Feel free to ask me any questions or to clarify any of my points above.
– Gordon 

 

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

by Andrew Sutherland,  Founder and CTO of Quizlet

Many successful entrepreneurs, especially young ones, don’t set out trying to start a company — they stumble into a problem, find a solution and that eventually turns into a company.

While 45 is the average age of a successful startup founder, I was only a sophomore in high school when the idea for Quizlet came to me. It was 2005; the iPhone had yet to be released and Facebook had just opened up to high school students for the first time. I needed a way to quickly and efficiently study hundreds of French vocabulary words. What started as a method to ace a test (111 French animals!), caught on like wildfire and became a global tool with more than 30 million monthly users.

How I think about business has shifted significantly over the past 13 years. With age comes reflection; here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.

From intuition-driven to data-driven decisions

Like most 15-year-olds, in the beginning I was mostly focused on … myself. I would use Quizlet to study, identify something that needed to be fixed, and then quickly update the code and release something new. However, as both Quizlet and I grew up, it became clear that I had to shift focus to what was best for the masses — students and teachers all over the world.

When Quizlet raised money for the first time, we got a lot of questions we didn’t know how to answer. We had bootstrapped the business for 10 years before raising funding –– which is uncommon in the tech world, though Github and Atlassian took similar paths. We had millions of people using the product, but we knew very little about how they used it. How many people share their learning content with others? How many people who sign up are still learning on the product a month later? We didn’t have the data to answer these questions.

The development of the product was based a lot on intuition, using it ourselves, and talking to other users. But, with millions of users, different people used the product for different things. For example, even though Quizlet wasn’t built for helping nursing students, hundreds of thousands of them now use it to study, and their needs vary from those of a high school student.

Our new investors pushed us to better understand our metrics, causing us to see some parts of the product really weren’t working or used at all. Today, the product analytics team plays a central role in everything we do. There’s still plenty of room for intuition and storytelling, but data informs every decision we make. We are much more thoughtful and focused as a result.

Deciding which things to hold on to, and which to cede control over

It’s human nature to want to control every aspect of your “baby,” but as a company scales, it becomes too large for one person to bear. To be successful, you need people with different types of experiences and skills and you have to come to terms with the fact that you’re not going to be good at everything, or even more jarring, that you’re really bad at some things.

I quickly realized how vital the recruiting process was. More than just having a specific skillset, I wanted people who were genuinely passionate about our company’s mission. It takes on average 71 days to fill C-level jobs, but the time we put into the search led to an amazing partner who helped me grow the business — our current CEO, Matthew Glotzbach. A lesson learned: It’s fine if hiring takes longer than you initially planned for — it means you’re being selective and careful with who you’re giving ownership to.

The importance of money

Revenue enables our educational mission. The more money we make, the more cool stuff we can do to help people learn. I’ve always been a very mission-driven person, and I’m passionate about improving education worldwide. The reality is though, most education startups die because they don’t make enough money — especially as the users you’re targeting (teachers and students) often aren’t the ones controlling school expenditures for technology or spending much money of their own. When I started, I wasn’t terribly interested in how Quizlet was going to make money. Now, it’s something we focus on a lot and I’m really happy about that.

The way we help a billion people learn is by building a really big business. We ask students and teachers to pay us for additional content and capabilities inside Quizlet. That means the people who like us the most are paying us directly. We also have ads, which allow us to serve tens of millions of people completely for free. This revenue model means we’re building a sustainable business that is independent and will be around for a long time.

A changing job description

The challenges and growing pains are changing all the time (we’ve doubled our team in the past year), so I’ve had to reinvent my role numerous times. These days, I write a completely new job description for myself every six months. In the beginning all I thought about was what to build next and how to solve user problems — and then as Quizlet began to mature, how to keep the site up when we were growing quickly.

Now we have a solid team of talented people who think about product development and platform infrastructure. It frees me up to focus on the big picture, like prototyping future product directions, hiring, keeping our company culture strong, and future funding and investments.

What part of my job doesn’t change? Knowing that the most interesting lessons are still ahead of me.

This article was originally published here.

#END

Why longer passwords are better?

Let's start with why it is really really really bad!

Say someone with a criminal mind had access to your inbox right now.  What if they did searches for “direct deposit”, “order number”,  “receipt” , “password, “account”, “autopay”, “invoice” or “payment”?

How easy would it be to know where you work, bank, shop, and play by looking in your inbox, sent and trash folders?  What could they figure out about your kids, their school, your parents, friends, coworkers etc.  What addresses would they have? Phone numbers? Schedules? Website links?

They might also have access to things like tax returns, account statements, medical records, resumes that have gone through your email account.  All of which have information that can be combined with other sources to piece together your life.

Once the hacker collects all this info they will try to access your web accounts with the password they just hacked. But if that doesn’t work they can leverage the “forgot my password” until they find one that sends the password instead of resetting it.  Then that password will get used on everything to see what other sites use it.  Hackers are tenacious and will chip away day after day undetected until they have everything they want.

When all else fails they can reset your passwords and login as you and hijack your entire online existence.  They can shut down balance alerts, start moving money around, send emails in your name asking your contacts to click on links that are back doors into their lives. They will create new accounts with your email and delete all the confirmations from your inbox so you have no idea these accounts exists and use them for as long as they need.  With your email and passwords, they can do pretty much do what they want.

Bottom-line, a criminal having access to your inbox is not good and opens you up for all kinds of headaches and embarrassment that can take years to recover.

So who is really at risk?

Anyone on gmail for business or office 365 are in a much better place than a small company that has their own email server because these services know they are a huge target and keep on the cutting edge to stay in front of the evil and do a great job.  A hacker getting access to your password with a brute force attack on your cloud account is probably low.

But, if you have your own email server and are not a Fortune 500 company with a multimillion dollar IT budget you are crazy to think you’re safe and you are not dealing with “if you get hacked” it’s “when you get hacked” which is why I don’t even deal with self-hosted email servers anymore (unless you are paying me to migrate them to the cloud).

Do I really need to worry about my email getting hacked? No one will guess my password.

So here is the deal, hackers don’t try and “guess” your password. (Ro)Bot Software does all the guessing using lists of every dictionary in the world with all the misspellings and possible combinations.  When they run this software against your system it is called a “Brute Force Attack” and can process millions of guesses per second which is why many website have password rules like must be 8-12 characters and contain numbers making it harder for these programs to cipher your password. 

There are two main things that affect the strength of your password.  First one is LENGTH, second is COMPLEXITY.

So if you have a short simple password that can be found in a dictionary or a baby’s name book these bots can “guess” them almost INSTANTLY!

Why longer passwords are better.

A password with 8 characters has 218,340,105,584,896 or 628 combinations when using a mixture of numbers (10) and letters (52).  A password with 9 characters (629) has 13,537,086,546,263,552 combinations which is almost double with  13,318,746,440,678,656 more combinations just by just adding one character to your password. So it might seem like only one small addition but it makes an exponential difference.

However, don’t let these enormous numbers fool you.  If your password lacks complexity it still can easily get hacked!

Don’t use PASSWORDS use a PASSPHRASE!

When I first started using passwords I used my childhood dog’s name, “georgia“.  As the years past and password requirements grew it became “Georgia1” then “Georgia0ne” then up to the day I published this article it was the PHRASE “GeorgiaOnemy1stPooch“. 

GeorgiaOnemy1stPooch is long, complex with lower case, upper case and a number.  I could have added a special character but a mixed case 20-character passphrase is pretty solid according to www.howsecureismypassword.net

Georgia will get hacked instantly
Georgia1 will take 2 days to crack
Georgia0ne will take 8 months to crack
GeorgiaOnemy1stPooch 558 QUADRILLION YEARS

 

A password that takes 558 quadrillion years to hack is virtually un-hackable (with today’s technology). 

In Summary

Don’t use the same passwords for everything.  Make your passwords passphrases that are long and complex.  Change them often and protect your email passwords.  Your life might depend on it.

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With the relaunch of this site I have made an honest effort to write more.  It is not something I am comfortable with and the last thing I consider myself is a writer.  But I have been working in the customer service space for so long that I have come to the conclusion that there is only one true tool when it comes to creating a strong business relationship.  Trust.  I can not tell you how many times my relationship collateral is what closed a deal or saved a project.  Being able to tell someone “I got it”  and have them give a green-light is one of the highest complements.  But it only works if they trust you.

So as I embark on this new site I wanted to be a vehicle that built trust with those that visit by sharing who I am through writing.  It is proven that sharing your thoughts and ideas through writing is one of the most effective ways to let people know what you are all about.  My “style” is conversational at best which if you know me, I am a what you see is what you get kind of guy, so I can’t think of any better way to show the true me.   

I often urge my clients to write and share their expertise so their customers can see their true professionalism.  However,  I am usually met with some level of resistance due to the time suck or “I am not a writer”.  Which I get because I used to say the same thing.   So when I came across this quick 5 minute read my first thought was,  “…where was this when I first started!”   – Gordon Lear LLC

An executive with the ability to communicate clearly through the written world can reap many benefits.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Writing is often seen as a creative task outside the realm of executives. After all, no executive has never been praised for her writing skills. While there have been a number of high-profile executives who have published bestselling books — Sheryl Sandberg being the best example — they are more the exception than the rule.

This is an unfortunate reality because we live in a content-driven world where more than 3 million blog posts are published every day. An executive with the ability to communicate clearly through the written world can reap many benefits, including more press interviews, speaking opportunities and strategic partnerships.

Executives, however, often lack the time to write. How could an executive find the time to write? By building a habit. Here’s how you can get started.

Do it first thing in the day.

In theory, you could write anytime you are in front of your computer. You could write when you are on a lunch break, in between meetings or after you come back from work. The best time you could use for writing, it turns out, is the morning.

The morning offers several benefits that can’t be found at other times of the day.

First and foremost, you have more energy to spend on a creative task like writing (assuming you sleep enough hours). Second, you are less stressed, which also liberates your mind to express itself more freely. Finally, you face no meetings, calls or emails at this time of the day.

If you combine a morning writing ritual with the next three tips, you will face little friction from your own mind or your surroundings (e.g., family, coworkers, etc.), letting you write without restrictions.

Do it for 30 minutes.

A habit shouldn’t take you more time than you can offer to it. Sure, writing for two hours could bring you greater rewards, but you’re not a professional writer with unlimited time. You need to make the most of your writing time.

I recommend 30 minutes as a modest time frame that will help you kick off your writing habit. Setting up a specific amount of time beforehand will help you enter a state of deep focus that an open time schedule won’t. What’s more, everyone in your organization (and even your family) will know you shouldn’t be disturbed.

You can use a 25-minutes Pomodoro if you like, but 30 minutes will probably fit better in your calendar and will give you more time to warm up your writing skills.

Focus on a strict length — 500 words.

With 30 minutes set up for writing, you want to crank out as many words as you can, regardless of its quality. A problem you will likely face, however, is the blank page — often cited as one of the main creativity blocks writers face.

To help you guide your energies, focus on writing not more than 500 words. By focusing on that number, you’re establishing a parameter of success; a KPI if you will.

What’s more, the seemingly small volume can compound to great success: If you write every day, at the end of your first month you will have written 15,000 words, the length of an average non-fiction book, or many blog posts.

Write what you know.

If you have gotten to a C-level position in any organization, you must have lots of experience and knowledge about your industry — exactly what you need to use when you write.

When you sit down to write then, write about what you know. Don’t reinvent the wheel or try to imitate Malcolm Gladwell. Write about the problems and challenges you face daily, the situations you observe and the lessons you learn from being on the trenches. After all, writing doesn’t ask for Pulitzer-level journalistic research or prose.

After a while, you can improve the content to focus on more complex subjects; when you are just getting started, however, start small by talking about everything you already know.

Don’t hold yourself up — be vulnerable.

As an executive, you must represent your organization with a professional attitude. This, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write like a robot. Your audience — potential customers, partners and journalists — wants to get to know you.

A good tip when you write is to think as if you were writing to a friend. Not only will this help lower your writing standards, which at first will help you break from the “blank page” spell mentioned above, but it will allow you to communicate in a personal way.

While you don’t want to say anything that can compromise your organization, you still want to express yourself freely, sharing your opinions, experiences and even failures.

The best part is, you will look much more relatable and real than most executives who hire ghostwriters.

This article was published here.

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Leadership and Success comes from those around you.

I was with a client last week and he asked me how it all started. He really wanted to know how I developed my unique ability to quickly understand what the business needed and then just as fast translate it into a technical plan that was easily executed.

My First IT Project

In the early 90’s there was a new game called Fantasy Football, or at least it was new to me. We pretty much played touchdown leagues because we calculated everything by hand from Monday’s USA Today sports section. I didn’t realize it at the time but my passion for sports introduced me to the rest of my professional life . . . computers.

My story isn’t like most computer guys. I didn’t start by taking things apart or building machines in the garage. I wasn’t even a gamer. I started as a word processing user.

My first computer was an IBM PS/1 that I bought at the now defunct Montgomery Wards, so that I could have spellcheck when I wrote my papers in college. It was a modern convenience that would quickly consume all my time and take me places I would have never thought I could reach.

I became the Data Guy

Before I knew it (and between homework assignments), I was building workbooks in Microsoft Works and calculating all the fantasy football points for the entire league This saved everyone hours and hours of painstaking work. Before long I was able to run dozens of these leagues with very little effort and my reputation as the “data guy” was born.

By the mid 90’s, I was beginning to use my schooling and passion for making things easier with computers and wrote some simple menu systems for DOS based point of sale systems. It wasn’t much, but it was the first time I used my skills and got paid. It was a turning point for me and made a career in computers seem obtainable.

I am the glue that keeps things together

After several years studying how to code, I moved on to network engineering where for two years I learned how to put more than one computer together and get them securely working on the same tasks. This, added to my software development and business acumen became the launching pad for my career. I was able to sit in a room with the a business unit, software developers and the IT guys and totally get what everyone was saying. But the true value came when I could easily see when one of the groups was not on the same page and I had the soft skills to quickly remove the confusion and right the ship. I quickly became the glue that made all these disjointed groups work together, which quickly moved me through the ranks.

Getting to work with the best

Over the years, I have worked on some incredible projects with amazing people. I have worked with fellows and executives from Stanford, Intel, GoDaddy, Dell, UNFI, Cardinal Health, Booz Allen Hamilton, Arthur Andersen, SAP, Siebel, Sage, SugarCRM, SalesForce, and TASER International to name a few. I also have had the pleasure of working with dozens of small business owners in retail, grocery, construction, manufacturing, machine shops, restaurants, sports clubs, nonprofits, HOAs, real estate, ecommerce, commercial diving, and many other industries.

To this day, I continue to do what I did during the early day of Fantasy Football. Take a painful task and make it painless. I have hundreds of contacts and colleagues at my disposal. So, when a company works with me they get my years of experience and all the expertise I have collected and am connected to around the world. I always work with less than five clients so I can focus and my availability can remain flexible.

I am originally from New England and moved to Sarasota in 1996. I love baseball, fishing and anything outdoors. I have been married for 25 years, have a teenage son that attends Pine View School for the Gifted and Swims for the National and State Champions, Sarasota Sharks.

If you are not sure about hiring a consultant, my favorite thing to do is to sit down with an owner or executive officer and see if I can help. (Especially over a beer or cup of coffee.)

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3 Ways to Encourage Your Staff to Think Like Entrepreneurs was a guest post by Miles Jennings that was originally posted on Entrepreneur and made me think about what I usually find in a company where things seem to be run down.  Many times owners of small businesses started a company because they had a skill that they could use to earn money but many times they lack the skills on how to foster a strong workplace.  For the most part most owners I work with are good to their employees but the tend to treat them more like their children than a workforce.  Micromanagement and helicopter supervisions tends to be the downfall. Owners are wanting more and employees are reluctant to do anything outside the box.  I agree with Miles three things but I would also let your staff become free thinkers and make sure they know it is OK to fail.  You want your workforce to be out on the edge trying to squeeze everything they can out of the day.  If they are always worried about what will happen of they screw up they will never come close to their potential and neither will your business – Gordon

Start by challenging everything.

5 min read Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own. More and more, we are hearing the concept of intrapreneurship within firms. I’ve talked before about how encouraging entrepreneurial thinking can start early, even with your kids, and what benefits can accrue for them and for all of us. In this article, I want to offer three ways to program entrepreneurial thinking in your staff to capture those benefits for your firm.

Challenge everything.

“Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” — Robert Kennedy paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw Entrepreneurs instinctively question processes and the status quo. They aren’t being combative or belligerent. They just don’t have the feature installed in their brains that prevents them from asking why. This feature can be uninstalled in the brains of your employees by simply giving them permission to ask why and making sure that your management team removes the corresponding defensiveness when a question is asked. Make sure it’s clear that “that’s how it’s always been done” is acceptable as an answer, but only as the means to begin a conversation as opposed to a strategy to end it. Encouraging this type of thinking — “design thinking” that is focused on solutions and action as opposed to aimless brainstorming — encourages more circulation of ideas from the bottom to the top, as opposed to traditional top-down only communication. If it’s clear that anyone can simply ask why things are done a certain way without fear of reprisal, and even propose a potentially better way, employees will find their opinions and thoughts to be even more valuable.

Network.

Podcast host Jordan Harbinger has a simple strategy that turns what most people think of networking on its head. Each week he tries to introduce two people in his network who didn’t know each other previously. The introduction could be related to business, but sometimes it’s just two people who like a particular TV show or board game, or perhaps a vacation destination or sport. Many people associate networking with after-hours meetups where people essentially throw business cards at each other and pitch complete strangers on their latest projects. But networking doesn’t need to be so transactional.  In fact, you should encourage your employees to reprogram the concept of networking in their minds to exclude transactions completely. Harbinger’s phrase for a more sustainable way of networking is “always be giving.” By encouraging your employees to network with each other and connect outside of work, not just socially, but in regards to side hustles or passion projects, you can help them build the rich interconnective tissue that most entrepreneurs have had to build by necessity, not just by choice. You can encourage your staff to take opportunities each week to introduce colleagues from the company to those in their own personal networks that share an interest or passion. Many entrepreneurs consider their networks one of the most valuable parts of their arsenal, and encouraging employees to network — without counting the cost — will give them that enduring and rewarding feeling of connecting others.

Encourage autonomy.

Southwest Airlines is well-known for its level of respect and collaboration between management and staff. That flows from a well-known policy of empowerment. Sometimes this leads to great publicity when someone tweets or writes about a story in which Southwest staff really made their travel special. But sometimes customers disagree, and there have been some cases in which the way Southwest handled a customer service situation was criticized. What has been key to the success of Southwest’s policy of empowerment is backing up the words with actions. When the stories are good, Southwest doesn’t try to take credit for the thoughtfulness of their employees, and if the stories are bad — which happens much less often — they don’t throw their employees under the bus (or airplane) and may concede that the situation “could have been handled differently.” But empowering employees means trusting them, and when people are given autonomy, they often rise to the occasion. On a much smaller scale than an airline, Tim Ferriss documented in The Four Hour Workweek that he empowered his employees at a nutritional supplement company to make customer service decisions up to $200 without approval from him. While Ferriss was looking to streamline his day and remove tasks from his to-do list, the more important effect was creating autonomous employees who were then able to offer tweaks to the business that could increase profitability and process with much less friction and process.

Final thoughts.

There is a never-ending debate between “born with it” or “learned behavior” when it comes to entrepreneurship. I won’t wade too deep into that debate today, but it’s clear that while entrepreneurs tend to consistently think and act in certain ways, it doesn’t mean that non-entrepreneurs can’t emulate those behaviors to everyone’s benefit. By taking the lead in encouraging your staff to think entrepreneurially, you’ll not just differentiate your company as a challenging and engaging place to work, but you’re likely to birth great innovations from within your own firm instead of reading about how other firms came up with them first.
This article was originally published here.
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Get More Done with Less

Ever heard of the Japanese concept of ‘Kanban’? It might really help your business.

I pulled this article from Entrepreneur news feed.  Don’t get caught up in the details but focus on the theory behind them.  Regardless what your company does these processes can be executed at any level.  As a matter of fact it was all done on pen and paper before all of this computer stuff started coming around. – Gordon Lear LLC

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A typical day in the life of a professional team consists of an endless number of to-dos. Unless there’s a plan in place to tackle them, the items on the checklist pile up fast.

We are decades into the digitization of the world, but there still continue to be Luddites who would rather use pen and paper to make lists than use apps on their small-screen phones. Pen and paper? More reliable, these people believe.

But this approach cannot work in a company set-up where teams need to collaborate across offices and geographical locations, and where members need lists to be centralized so they can ascertain the status of tasks. Such centralization ability is especially helpful for big projects involving multiple players and tasks within tasks.

That’s where the right kind of project management software becomes essential: It can prevent confusion and improve productivity. Here are some simple but effective ways to help your team remain on top of the workflow.

There is a lot of shiny words below trying to explain a simple concept.  Kanban is just a big board (wall / whiteboard) with a bunch of “to-dos”.  Think sticky notes.  But the sticky notes are color coded based on priority and each person has a row to stick their notes in the to-do, doing, and done columns. I have found this to be an effective way to plan and track any project.  I have been using this type of process for years and it has never failed me. – Gordon Lear LLC

1. Kanban board apps for greater control

The meaning behind the concept known as “Kanban” becomes clear when you realize that the word literally translates from Japanese to signboard or billboard.

Yes, a billboard. A message spelled out in big, bold letters so that it cannot be missed.

Kanban board apps rely on their clever structure/software rather than size and flashy neon signs to help teams set up and execute systematic workflows. The underlying principle, however, remains the same: Messages are laid out in a way that makes it hard to miss those important to-dos.

While many to-do list apps have their place and a deservedly dedicated following, they might be somewhat flat in certain situations. Depending on the apps you use, they might  lack the ability to establish hierarchy; and they might present no way to intricately detail a task mentioned on the list.

A Kanban board, in contrast, helps users visualize workflow by splitting tasks into color-coded lanes that stand for simple and complex processes. Think of these as colorful digital sticky notes laid out on a screen with appropriate titles.

Quire implements the concept of the Kanban board and combines it with structured to-do lists to give companies ultimate control on workflow organization. It lets you break down big ideas into small chunks to create nested to-do lists and makes use of a Kanban board to color-code and visualize these steps.

From within the nested to-do lists, users can switch to the Kanban board to track progress and/or execute tasks, all from one place.

Other notable Kanban apps include the ever popular Asana, Github and Trello. Trello, in fact, may just have popularized the whole Kanban concept with its lean interface that requires almost no learning.

Smartly designed Kanban-board apps help teams streamline their work, track progress and spot obstacles as they arise. This promotes productivity, transparency and accountability.

Everyone has a To Do list and I am not sold you need an APP that is just for a To Do.  But I think this article misses the biggest productivity issue when it comes to do list.  Choosing what to keep off them!  I  build what I call a MUST DO list!  Keeping track of everything is one thing,  but knowing what are the high value tasks and which ones to let go are the difference between getting big things done and having trouble getting out of you own way.  Figuring out what NOT to do is just as important ask keeping track of what you MUST DO – Gordon Lear LLC

2. Invest in the right to-do list app for your team

Sometimes, especially if you are just starting out, a simple to-do list app is all you need. You don’t need a full-fledged project management tool, just  an effective checklist app that simplifies task management for your employees. The latter has its advantages; as a long-time user of Google Keep, my reliance on the app means I can’t go a single day without using it.

In an office setup, however, you need something more professional. We have many excellent choices in this field to help users organize their tasks and navigate through busy days and projects.

For instance, you can assign priorities, delegate tasks and set reminders with Todoist.

Any.do, meanwhile,  is a beautifully designed app that goes beyond being a barebones to-do tool and lets users set daily reminders in the form of push notifications. Users can also make voice entries, and drag and drop and swipe to complete tasks.

OneNote, which is offered as part of Microsoft Office 365 suite, is an excellent tool for task management. In its entirety there’s a lot this software helps small businesses with. But it can also be used as a checklist app on the phone.

Then there’s Evernote, the darling of all note-takers. The only problem I have with it is that it is very restrictive unless you purchase a premium plan.

All of these tools have collaborative features and integrate with other popular tools. Find the one best suited for your purpose.

Mind mapping isn’t a new thing but it sounds like a futuristic CIA spook concept to me. But all it really means is to take all that stuff that speeds through your head while you are trying to fall asleep at night and document it so you are not so overwhelmed.   Being able to see it all laid out allows you to see any gaps or opportunities that might not have been so obvious while it was a mashed up stealing your Z’s.  However, I am not sold on all these apps, I think there is a place for them, but not so sure it is at the core of the solution.  My fingers are not even close to being as fast as my head so this is where I go old school with a whiteboard. I can fill up four walls in about 10 minutes.  Of course I take pics with my phone and upload to OneNote so it still all goes digital. – Gordon Lear LLC 

3. Use mind maps to boost creativity

It would be reductive to say that a mind map is essentially multiple to-do lists in one. The reason: A mind map is so much more than that.

It’s a detailed drawing that allows users’ creativity to flow. It’s an excellent brainstorming tool, and it’s something I highly recommend all businesses invest in. Use it to start the conception journey for a project and see your productivity jump. Not just your productivity, but also the quality of your ideas.

With the right kind of mind-mapping tool, teams can visualize complex tasks in great detail, zero in on the gaps, see obstacles and predict outcomes that might otherwise be easy to miss.

MindMeister, Lucidchart and XMind are some of the top tools in this space. Their collaborative properties allow virtual teams to work together to create magic.

While smart time management is at the heart of productivity, the right tools can prove to be of immense value. If something doesn’t click, it’s a simple matter of switching software until you find which works. The range of tools in the market means that no business, no matter its size, need suffer a dip in productivity because of chaotic task management.

All three of these processes have been trending way up for years and there is a reason for it.  They work!   You don’t need to bring in new apps to apply some of these proven productivity boosters.   If you think improving your team production is a good idea for your company let me know.  I can help you with the learning curve and save you some headaches by showing you what works and what does not.- Gordon Lear LLC

The original article was published here.

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If the ego is painful it is time to go.

What great IT people have in common

I have worked with some of the best IT people in the world.  From über system engineers to top notch project managers to visionaries, innovators and early adapters.  Many having pedigrees emerging from GoDaddy, Intel, SalesForce, SugarCRM, Microsoft, McKessen, TASER International, Anderson, Jackson Hewitt, Thompson Reuters and more.  One thing they all have in common is they freely speak the words, “I don’t know”. At first that may seem odd, but great IT people are comfortable with admitting it is impossible to know everything and their confidence in the skills and the value they bring the don’t worry about admitting they don’t know something.  Great IT people are extremely forthcoming and don’t hide behind jargon, shop talk and acronyms.  In addition, they are great communicators, incredibly transparent and put everything on the table so everyone can focus on staying positive and moving forward.  Furthermore, they are the inspiration holding everything together not the voice of resistance.  Teams with great IT people are unstoppable.

Beware of the hoarder

In contrast, the IT person that never admits they don’t know something is the same IT person that will never admit they are wrong.  They are vague and misleading.  They hoard information and spend the majority of their time covering their ass.  Self preservation becomes their highest priority.  They are first to point the finger and throw someone under the bus. Common phrases are usually dismissive  “It can’t be done”, “Its complicated”, “Let me see if I can explain” or my favorite “you wouldn’t understand”. You often leave meetings frustrated and answer-less and wonder what is going on with IT. As owners you know an issue exists, but cab be at a loss on what to do. After all this person has the passwords to everything, including everyone’s email, files and everything else. They are the only ones that know where everything is and how everything works. At times they know the company’s deepest darkest secretes. The idea of getting rid of them seems more painful then letting them continue sucking the life out of everyone and everything around them.

Don’t wait until it is too late

I have seen this situation so many times and it always, always ends with a (long-time coming) termination.  Each time it was not as horrible as expected and the postmortem usually ends up revealing things that were much worse than assumed. Often I have owners tell me, “if I new then what I know now I would have cut ties a long time ago”.  If you have this person in your company they are going to crash and burn.  Why waste anymore time, money and effort? During my years I have had to prepare and execute many high level key termination strategies including CEO’s, VP’s and IT department heads. You and your company are much better off with this person out of the picture.  Putting a proper plan in place these seemingly hard transitions can be done painlessly.  If you are being held hostage and need of some great IT people let me help get your company back to a healthy running organization. Don’t let your company be held hostage.  Make the change and get on with bigger and better days!  
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“If I can make it so that you can spend 90% of your time focused on what makes your business special and never have to worry about technology again would you be interested?” 

Many companies leave IT to last and treat it as an expense and not an investment. Many companies have had one person that knew computers better than anyone else, so they were made into the company’s “IT Person”. However, what you get is an IT person that has experience exclusive to your situation and only knows the world within your company walls. They may not be able to provide the value that external experience gives. They may even be reluctant to change and like to stay within the confines of what they know, blindly creating limitations.

It doesn’t take long before these companies find themselves hitting the Technology Wall. Things become outdated, slow…and frustration ensues.  But even more frustrating, is the thought of the cost to replace everything. So, many companies limp along replacing things when only forced due to physical failure or some unplanned event (which always seem to happen at the worst moments).

The world of technology has changed dramatically over the last several years. Everything is moving online and doing so in a way that makes it easy for companies to move to cutting edge solutions, smashing through that technology wall without having to front huge piles of cash.

They take the headaches of hardware and building custom software and give you fast , readily available frameworks to build your infinite scale-able solutions.  They take you from old and tired to new and explosive usually with less money and simplified roll-outs.  The money you spent on expensive backups and the people needed to run them go away.  Software updates are automatic and you always have the latest versions.  It is equivalent to driving a shiny new car every day.

"By shifting the conversations with ownership to focus on the business problems and not the technical solutions, this empowered the group to come up with the best solutions . . ."

This, of course creates new concerns.  How do you even get your head around moving from your dusty broken-down systems to new fresh online (cloud) systems without interrupting business?

Whenever I start talking to business owners about this they immediately go into solution mode and start almost every sentence with “What I need is..” or “Can we do it this way?…”

In my earlier years, I would spend hours listening and trying to meet their needs. After all, it was my job to give them what they wanted.  Sometimes it worked, but many times it didn’t.  The main reason why we came up short so often was that I didn’t understand what my job really was.  It was not to give them what they wanted.  It was to give them what they needed.  Once I started doing this, their success sky rocketed and my value soared.

By shifting the conversations with ownership to focus on the business problems and not the technical solutions, this empowered the group to come up with the best solutions because everyone’s input is related to their expertise.  I could understand the real problems and match them up with the best recommended solutions.

The more the business can focus on business the better.  Let the technical expert bring their value to the business by letting them tell you what you need.  Ideally, once they understand the problem set, they can propose more than one solution, followed up with their overall recommendation.

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stop wasting time on tasks you can outsource

It was 6:34 PM and a client calls me frustrated beyond the level of any normal human being. Before I can even finish saying “hello” he explodes into a tirade on how he can’t login to his laptop and he is about ready to throw it out the window!

Like most of my small business owners, his personality couldn’t stop him from trying to solve the problem on his own and my instincts tell me he has been troubleshooting for some time and this phone call is his last resort before he tests the laptop’s aerodynamics.

Listening to his long and descriptive list of trial and errors, I determine he is having issues with the authenticating server. Now, we could have gone thru a myriad of trouble shooting steps but all he wanted was to get into a word document on his desktop.

Seeing I was on the highway returning from my son’s swim practice, I need to get creative if I wanted to get him back to being productive. I suggested that he disconnect from the internet and then try to login again. This would hopefully force the laptop to login locally and not try to login to the uncooperative server 

I could tell he was a bit apprehensive, as I am sure he wanted to hear some elaborate solution. I did my best to explain how it works with an analogy about how kids will ask one parent for permission to do something and if they don’t get the answer they want, they go and ask the other. It’s not exactly how domain authentication works, but it does use common language to draw a picture that is close enough from where he is sitting. Even with all that, I could tell he didn’t have much hope.

About 3 minutes later my phone rings again from the same number and I heard that familiar southern drawl, “Son of a GUN! It worked! Do you know how long I have been fussin’ with this?” I think to myself, too long. “2 hours! I tried everything I could for 2 HOURS! I call you, and I am in in 2 Seconds!”

“Man, I feel stupid”, he says. I tell him, “No, the only mistake you made was not calling me an hour and forty-five minutes ago.  If you did you would be done working on your document by now”. I remind him to let me handle the technology while he handles the business. He chuckled and we both hung up smiling.

It is important as a business owner to keep your time on high valued tasks.  Spending two hours trying to fix your laptop is two hours you will never have to build your business.  You only have so many hours in a day.  Why spend them on tasks that are not making you money?

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