Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes (Oscar Wilde)

images-31Experience is a word we hear a lot in life, especially in the business world.  You need experience to apply for a job, get funding to start a business, or get promoted.  Experience, per se, however, is not exactly what we are looking for.  What we really mean is, we want someone who will make good decisions on the job, and we think the best way to get that is to hire/promote/fund someone with “experience”.  I know what you’re thinking–“Chris, this is just semantics!  I’m not going to spend my precious time reading this post–it’s almost NFL draft weekend and I need to study up!”  Well, trust me for a minute and read on.  Besides, don’t waste your time trying to guess on the draft–even the guys who get paid to do nothing but analyze it have atrocious track records

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Be as witty as The Terminator…

Well Stocked Mind QuoteI recently ran across an interesting term called “Prosthetic Knowledge’.  We all know what prosthetics are–limbs, for example–but this is the first time I had thought about it combined with knowledge.  In a way, it has nearly always been true.  Humans have, for a long time, been able to access more knowledge than what they could simply carry around in their heads.  With the advent of the personal computer, then the internet, and now smart phones, the accessibility of this prosthetic knowledge has gone up tremendously.  For me, this brings up 2 questions–where is it going next, and are we getting any smarter, or are we just as stupid but quicker about it than before?

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Listen! Do you smell something?

images-7The movie Ghostbusters has more great lines than perhaps any other movie, in my opinion.  You know, lines like, “I am terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought”, which describes me at my own wedding.  But this line, “Listen!  Do you smell something?“, was not only funny but also oddly wise.  Looking at this line a little closer can help us be better communicators.

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Your customers are the “job creators”

After almost 35 years in the business world, I have never understood the current idea floating around that tax breaks to businesses and wealthy individuals will somehow create jobs.  This idea comes from Ronald Reagan, I believe, and the phrase he coined “Trickle Down Economics“.  (Well, actually, the original phrase comes from Will Rogers, but everyone I know associates it with “Reaganomics”.)  In every business I’ve been involved with, the only thing that results in more investment & hiring is the idea of more customers.  The owner of the company is not the original creator of jobs any more than the hiring manager who writes the job description.  The customers are the job creators.  The effect of this on a larger scale is explained beautifully in this TED talk by Nick Hanauer:

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Think sideways to move forward

images-23In an earlier post I wrote about the “stack fallacy“, which in short is the thinking that since I’m already doing the “hard” part, I can and should move up the stack to do more of the complete product, typically in order to capture more revenue. I want to talk a little about the flip side of this coin. By that, I mean the inherent under-appreciation of what we do well.  It is a strange combination of thinking that what I am doing is the hard part yet at the same time is not enough in & of itself to make a business of.  I wrote about this a bit in my post called Strengths & Weaknesses.  To break out of it, and get to the business version of “Be Yourself”, try thinking sideways…

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Build a business, not a product.

images-20I read a very good TechCrunch article today called “3 pitfalls that can sink any crowdfunded hardware startup“.  This article is focused on Kickstarter campaigns but it is great advice for all new product development ventures.  It focuses on 3 key points:  your supply chain (how you’re going to make your product), your Kickstarter campaign (how you’re going to fund your product), and your product itself.  I especially like the 3rd and final piece of advice, “Build a business, not a product”.  In a way, this sums up the core of my product development strategy, and I often say that business development and product development go hand-in-hand (don’t worry, I never say this at parties).

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I know what I want! …But what do they want??

Forget about softnessHaving been in the tech world my entire career, I’m constantly around “idea” people.  These are very smart engineers and scientists who have spent their lives creating amazing things with technology.  As you might imagine, they value ideas extremely highly.  My main work with them is two-fold:  sifting, and execution.  Sifting through their numerous and seemingly equally-valuable ideas and working with them to determine which to pursue, and then helping them understand the value (and difficulty) of execution, and how it is often vastly more difficult than they original idea was to get.  Kicking this process off always starts with the same general double question:  Who are you making this for, and why do they need it?

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Enlightened Dictatorship

CreditThere is constant tension in management teams around using every team member’s opinions when making a decision.  I often run into managers who avoid this tension by making decisions without seriously considering team members’ input.  When I bring it up for discussion, I tend to hear lines like “You can’t run a business as a democracy”, or my all-time favorite, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee!”.  It seems many mangers confuse getting input before making a decision with needing consensus, and confuse teamwork with parity.  Perhaps not coincidentally, they end up getting to simply make the decision they wanted to make all along.  But things can go so much better if managers learn to leverage their teams.

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What’s your problem? Don’t answer so fast…

wrong-questionI want to give an example about the type of detail you need to strive for when starting a new project.  It might be more helpful than an analogy, which I’ve written about before.  I’ll try to keep the technical background to a minimum, and apologize in advance if you feel I’ve failed to do that!  So read on, at your own peril…

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Begin with the NEXT end in mind

images-16Habit 2 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.” This habit gives me more trouble, but has saved my ass more times, than any of the others. With a clear understanding of what this does & does not mean, it is absolutely critical in business.

Every leader I’ve worked with has a vision of what they want to accomplish. When I dig down into it, this vision is painted with a big brush. By that, I mean it is a grand, broad vision that lacks detail. This vision is not only important to have, but it is important to regularly keep at the forefront of the team’s mind. It is not, however, an “end” in and of itself. It is a (hoped for) consequence of, but not a direct result of, action the business or team plans to take.  American football, as always, provides a great analogy for this.

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