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    Monday
    Oct292012

    Carp, addictive bait, and just showing up

    We have all heard the old chestnut about the connection between 'showing up' and success - there are a few variations of the idea, but the one that is most often repeated, and that we probably cringe in horror when we see it randomly shoot past on a Twitter feed or a Facebook page is attributed to Woody Allen, and reads something like:

    'Eighty percent of success is showing up.'

    The idea being, I suppose, that often we short-circuit our own chances for success by not doing theI prefer Romanian bait simple, basic, and often kind of easy parts of the work, making true success even more unlikely. It is a kind of comforting notion as well - one begins to think that merely 'showing up' - i.e. getting to work on time, doing the pre-reading, passing on eating the extra donut - will put you 80% of the way towards wherever you'd like to go. And maybe that is true. But often just showing up won't get it done in a truly competitive situation, unless of course you call 'showing up' arriving five months before it is actually required, and creating a set of conditions from which, during the actual competition, you will be certain to win. 

    Submitted for your review, from a piece on the sports blog Deadspin, the story of the recent World Carp Fishing Championship, (yes, such a thing exists), and how 'showing up' five months early paid off for the Romanian team.  

    Winners Romania had spent the five months preceding the tournament feeding the fish of Lake Corbu with a secret bait recipe. Unfortunately for the 10-man England side, who finished 18th, they turned up at last month's tournament with £10,000 worth of traditional "boilies".

    The mash-up of flour, egg and flavorer such as blended dried dog food is popular with British fish but failed to spark a flicker of interest in the Romanian carp which were happy to gorge on the feed offered on the hooks of their hosts which they had grown obligingly fat on throughout the summer.

    The debacle has prompted fury in the highly-competitive world of carp fishing, a discipline where technical know-how and secret techniques can make the team tactics of cycle road racing appear as complex and cut throat as a round of tiddlywinks.

    I don't know why, but I dig this story. Maybe it's the underdog angle, except I have no idea if the Romanian team were truly underdogs. Or maybe it's the appreciation for the way they figured out there was more than one way to win at this contest, and if they were willing to do the lengthy preparation and pre-work that was needed, that they would win in the end, with the extra bonus of it seeming like cheating or at least unsporting behavior making it even more compelling.

    But in the end, I guess I like the story because it pokes a little bit at the Woody Allen quote that I am sick of hearing. The other teams all 'showed up' at the Carp fishing contest, but were crushed by the Romanians who just 'showed up' as well.  The difference was only how they interpreted 'showing up', something that no pithy quote from a celebrity can teach.

    So here's my (non-celebrity) advice on when you should show up - earlier than you planned.

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    Oct262012

    Playing offense on social media

    Some time back the great Paul Hebert wrote one of the best pieces in the last few years over on Fistful of Talent, titled, HR Plays Too Much Defense.  You should stop what you are doing and read it, or re-read it as the case may be, then come back for a recent and I think perfect example of Paul's ideas played out in the corporate social media space. I'll wait.

    Ok, back? I told you Paul's piece was money.

    So here's my example of playing offense, or at least not sitting back and playing defense, from one of those classic 'Love them or hate them' organizations, Goldman Sachs.

    Of course you'll remember the recent resignation flame-out from former Goldman Sachs employee Greg Smith, who took to the New York Times op-ed page to trash Goldman's culture, draw attention to their bad treatment of clients and customers, and essentially portray the firm as a horrible, horrible place to work, one where a high-minded and formerly optimistic, but now jaded person like himself could no longer be comfortable with.

    Well last week Smith sat down with the Times once again, to talk about his soon to be released tell-all memoir 'Why I Left Goldman Sachs'.  Turns out that according to the piece in Times last week, the 'tell-all' doesn't really have that much to say, in fact the headline of the piece, 'A Tell-All on Goldman Has Little Worth Telling', paints Smith equal parts greedy, out-of-touch, and disappointed with his personal compensation, as some kind of crusader to protect customers and reveal deficiencies in Goldman's culture.

    Goldman, upon seeing the latest Times' piece, issued the below tweet from their official Twitter account:

     

     

    Man, that's a burn.  At least from Goldman's point of view, the Times' provided the initial platform for Smith's enmity and accusations, and now after some time and more details are revealed by Smith via his memoir, essentially has to admit there really isn't much there there. Goldman's swipe at the Times is, at least to my view, a great example of taking the offense, in a way that is snarky but still measured, and one that certainly seems to be in line with their reputation and culture.

    Let me be clear about one thing, I am not an apologist for Goldman at all, and their role in the financial crisis of 2008-2009 has been pretty well documented. Next year a former Goldman trader will be tried for civil fraud for his role in the subprime mortgage scandals. Goldman's hands are not at all clean.

    But that makes their little dig at the Times even more refreshing I think.  It is easy, especially when you might not have the most respected brand, to sit back, to try not to offend, to play by a really restrictive set of rules, but like Paul pointed out in the FOT piece, playing defense all the time is playing not to lose.

    Do you want to play to win, whether it is in HR, marketing, recruiting, or social?

    Then you have to score some points.

    And the Goldman example above reminds us even the 'bad' guys can get over sometimes as well.

    Thursday
    Oct252012

    I'll trade you a Carl Sagan for your double of Niels Bohr 

    I am out at HR Technology Europe in Amsterdam the rest of this week, and working on about 2 hours of dodgy sleep on the overnight flight from New York last night, so today's post is totally being mailed in. If you are disappointed, please feel free to fill in the complaint form and ask for a refund.

    I am pretty sure my favorite non-reality TV show, and really the only TV show that I actually try and catch semi-regularly is Big Bang Theory. If you are not familiar with the show, it is a comedy that features as its main characters a group of four friends that all are highly educated university level scientists.  They also happen to be a bit geeky, are irrationally focused on comic books and Star Trek, talk often of how they were, (and in some cases still are), mocked and picked on by 'cooler' people, and often struggle with a world that at times seems kind of stacked against them. The good looking, socially confident, and outgoing people seem to get most of the breaks in life, while their incredible intellectual capacity seems only valuable in the workplace, and kind of a hindrance everywhere else.

    So when I stumbled upon this post on the It's Okay To Be Smart blog titled 'Scientist Trading Cards - Collect the Whole Set!', I immediately thought about the guys on Big Bang Theory, and the probably thousands of science students everywhere that look up to and hold in extremely high regard these legends of science that are depicted in the set of Scientist Trading Cards

    The trading cards, each one representing a legend of science, ranging from physics, to chemistry, to astronomy, are purposely designed to mimic the styles of famous sports trading cards of the past, (the Isaac Newton shares a design with baseball legend Brooks Robinson for example).

    Why bother taking note of these scientist trading cards? Why not just look at them as an amusing bit of fun and an interesting bit of design completed by someone clever with photoshop?

    Well, here's why I think they are worth thinking about. In the HR/Talent/Recruiting industries we seem to have been talking for ages about hard to fill roles in the technology fields, and the seeming lack of suitable, trained talent for many of our most technical and scientific jobs. And while lots of potential remedies for this problem continue to be suggested, things like getting more training for displaced workers, loosening up the H1B visa process to welcome more foreign workers, and even increasing the numbers of 'smart' automation in our businesses, we never seem to attack the problem at a basic, more fundamental level.

    Namely, convincing the next generation that science, technology, engineering etc. are not just important, but they can and should actually be careers to aspire to, and possess incredible legends, heroes, and role models - just like the professions that we routinely train our children to idolize - athletes, entertainers, and reality TV personalities. What if we could convince kids that being a great scientist could actually get them there own trading card?

    I dig the scientist trading cards. I wish they were actually real. I think I'd like the kinds of kids that would want to collect them.

    Wednesday
    Oct242012

    Comic Sans and Getting the Details Right

    At a prior job I worked with a colleague that had changed her default email message font to Comic Sans. 

    The first time I received a message from her, and drank in all the Comic Sans goodness, I thought it must have been some kind of a joke, or a mistake, or a little bit of fun, as I am 99% sure the contents of the message were along the lines of 'Welcome to the group, I am looking forward to working with you.'Not the same, is it?

    But as time passed and the ensuing communications I received from this colleague became much more traditional, mundane, and efficient, the Comic Sans persisted. Eventually, I could not take it anymore, and in the nicest way I knew how, (which was probably not very nice, I admit), I gave her some unsolicited advice, to drop the Comic Sans from her outgoing message template, as it was pretty hard to take anything she wrote very seriously when presented in the puerile font of a 3rd grader.

    I probably didn't use the word 'puerile' in my note. Well maybe I did.

    I can't remember exactly how she took my advice, other than her obvious failure to take heed of it - until I left that position, she never dropped the Sans from her routine.

    So this is clearly a blatant example - no one in business I have ever encountered before or since wrote emails in Comic Sans. But when I think about this former colleague, it is truly the only thing about her I remember.  She may have been very smart, capable, an industrious team member - maybe not.

    But I would not be able to separate the work, the quality, and her ability from the baffling way she chose to present much of that work, and her failure to grasp how she was coming across to her audiences.

    What's the point of this story, (aside from the fact that I found this really cool post on the favbulous blog that renders a bunch of famous corporate logos in Comic Sans and wanted to write about it).

    I guess that in communication everything, every last detail matters. And while you can't use that as an excuse to refine, review, and over think things endlessly, it also means that you have to nail the basic, essential bits or you and your message will never be heard.

    Seemingly small things, like the choice of a font, often have much larger and more significant implications than we think. And I guess if it doesn't 'feel' right, then it probably isn't.

    Happy Wednesday all - I am off to HR Tech Europe in a couple of hours, if you are in Amsterdam this week, please make sure to say hello!

    Tuesday
    Oct232012

    Housecleaning as a perk? It's about reducing decisions

    Yesterday at Fistful of Talent in the latest '5 Things You Need to Know This Week' compilation, Holland Dombeck included a link to this piece from Business Insider - 'Evernote Pays For Each Of Its 250 Employees To Have Their Houses Cleaned Twice Per Month', which on the surface reads mostly like another one of those classic and almost cliche, 'Tech company perks that your business would never even consider', kinds of pieces.

    I mean, we've all read enough stories about free gourmet meals, onsite car detailing services, anything goes dress codes, and even more out of the ordinary types of perks and benefits that tech companies have been known to create and bestow upon their employees. And for most of us that do not work in one of these small or start-up tech companies, our reaction to these stories is pretty standard - variously choosing from the following:  they won't work in our culture, won't scale to our size, are somehow 'unfair', and since none of our industry or location benchmarks say we have to offer them to be competitive, then we don't have to worry about them. They make for a cute story, (and easy blog fodder), but that's it.

    It was with that kind of practiced cynicism I too read the Business Insider piece about Evernote, but digging into the story just a bit deeper, buried in the original New York Times piece that BI essentially summarized, we find this gem of a quote from an Evernote employee, when asked about the 'free housecleaning' perk:

    Given that his employer is paying to clean his apartment, (Evernote VP of Marketing), Mr. Sinkov and his girlfriend do not have to quibble about cleanup duties. The value of the perk is greater than the money saved, he said.

    “It eliminates a decision I have to make,” Mr. Sinkov said. “It’s just happening and it’s good, and I don’t have to think about it.”

    Hmm.

    The perk is valuable because it 'eliminates a decision I have to make'.

    That sounds familiar, no?  Well it should to regular readers of this blog, as very recently I posted about two separate stories about the importance of reducing (often unnecessary), decision making, as shared by President Obama and the President of the Internet, Mark Zuckerberg.

    It's not about the cash value of the perk - I suspect Mr. Sinkov can afford to pay to have his house cleaned - but rather about removing from his day-to-day the need to think about it at all. 

    And what we saw in the Obama and Zuckerberg stories continues to resonate - if you want to really, truly, and fully do great work, maybe even your best work, then anything that distracts you too much from that work presents just another little barrier that you need to get over.

    And anything, even a simple perk like housecleaning, (or dog walking, or yard work, or time off for voting), can give people on your team just a little bit of help in what for most of us seems like a Monday to Friday mad dash to get everything done.

    Think about it - what can you do today to let your teams make just one less decision?