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    Entries in work (206)


    Tuesday, rain, and playing the long game

    Ever since Malcolm Gladwell pitched his now famous 10,000 hours theory, it cemented into our awareness what most everyone has known for a really long time - overnight success is usually not overnight at all, and the long, slow grind of experiments, failures, refinements, learning, and disappointments is what (mostly) leads to what only seems like overnight success.Johns - Figure 4

    Even the 'Gangnam Style' guy has been plying his craft in one form or another for over 10 years.

    We all know this to be true, it isn't novel, we were usually taught this in school starting in about 3rd grade, or whenever it was we ran face first into that first subject or concept that we didn't just 'get' right away. Maybe it was fractions, maybe sentence structure, adverbs, or long division - once that first bit of frustration with not understanding hits, we generally realize pretty quick the only (ethical) way forward is long, boring, hard, and largely unsatisfying effort. Unsatisfying until we do finally 'get it' and say things like 'It's all been worth it', or in the case of calculus, 'I'm glad I'll never have to go through that again.'

    So while the 'you have to work really hard for a long time to become great at anything' isn't news, it still is a sentiment or guide that still bears repeating from time to time, (at least for me). And rarely have I seen it expressed as well as in a recent piece on the ESPN True Hoop blog called 'The long game is the only game', by Henry Abbott, (I know you are shocked, a basketball site).  

    Here's the money quote from Henry:

    It may appear that NBA games are won with big moments when everybody is looking -- dunking over people, blocking shots, hitting a momentous jumper. And once in a while that does happen. But the reality is that many more careers and games turn on getting things right in the millions of small moments when nobody is looking. The big moments will always dominate the Hollywood version of events. But in real life, if you want to do the most you can to get the best possible results, it's a long game of putting together one solid day of training after another.

    You want to know who's going to have the best NBA career? You could do worse than to simply figure out who puts in the most work to prepare.

    Maybe in the NBA there are some exceptions to this, there are some supremely talented and physically gifted guys where the need for the day-in, day-out slog is not necessary to have successful and even legendary careers. But those guys are extremely rare, often work and practice much, much more than they let on, and often are looked back upon as not making the most of their physical gifts.

    For the rest of us, who can't dunk a ball, or for whom irrational number theory never came naturally, we have to continue to grind away. 

    I got up early today, it's Tuesday, it's cold and raining. The kind of day that is pretty easy to fold to, to simply go through the motions,  and come back tomorrow.

    But that never gets it done.


    There's only 14 hours in a day

    You only have 12-14 working hours in an average day to get done what you need to get done, so you better get proficient and diligent about scheduling and time management.

    That is the paraphrased advice I caught from one of the guests on an MSNBC show called 'Your Business', a show about tips, strategies, and advice for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.

    It's pretty easy to take that '12-14 hour' assertion and break it down to see if that kind of level of effort and commitment would work in your life of course. It's just a numbers game really.

    Take the midpoint of 'working hours' say - 13

    Give yourself an (optimistic) 6 hours for sleep.

    That's 19 hours accounted for so far. You have 5 hours left, but that still seems like a lot, right?

    Do you physically have to go to an office? If not, you likely on most days, have to go somewhere. Let's be conservative and say 1 hour a day (on average), is spent in transit, and such, more or less not available for 'work', or at least not usually.

    4 hours left. That still feels like plenty.

    There was a really popular book that came out a couple of years back that suggested 4 hours was enough to get a week's worth of work done. I admit to not reading the book and knowing anything about how one might actually successfully pull off that trick, but if someone can figure out how to cram a week's work into 4 hours, then that same amount of time each day has to be plenty for non-working, non-sleeping activities.

    So what would need to be fit into the remaining 4 hours? Well depending on your personal situation, interests, and motivations, you'll need to select however many items you can from the (incomplete) list below:

    1. Eating

    2. Obtaining and/or preparing food and related items to support your need to eat

    3. Personal care and hygiene

    4. (If you have kids) whatever you do each day that passes for parenting

    5. Family/friend social time

    6. Everything else I missed

    Can you fit that all in to 4 hours? Maybe. Again, on average maybe for a while.

    Of course you or someone you take care of might get sick. Your car might break down. Some inconsiderate friend or family member might actually need more than about 45 minutes of your time at a stretch one day. And of course you need time to keep track of and update, (variously), Facebook, LinkedIn, (well that might be 'work'), Twitter, Instagram, Tumbr, Pinterest, etc.

    But the interesting thing to me is not that the guest on the small business focused talk show casually tossed out the 12-14 hours as the standard or expected allotted or expected 'working day', it's that none of the other guests nor the host challenged the assertion in any way. It was a given. It was 'normal'. And while interesting, it certainly isn't surprising, everyone knows, (except maybe the 4-hour work week guy), that small business owners and entrepreneurs have to work longer and harder and give up mostly everything else in their lives for a time in order to get a new venture off the ground.

    That kind of grind, and maybe even worse, comes with the territory. Which is one of the many reasons that small business ownership and entrepreneurship will never be for everyone. Lots of smart, talented, and dedicated folks simply can't or don't choose to sign up for that kind of grind, particularly when they hit a stage in their lives when personal and family obligations increase and become more important, (think kids' school and sports activities, elder care, spouse or partner job transition, and more).

    What's the point?

    I guess that 5 years in to a slowdown-recession-recovery-slowdown cycle that seemingly will go on another 5 years or so, and with so many organizations that have had to fight to survive many of the actual 'survivors' have had a long stretches of time where they've been asked and expected to have the dedication and submit to the lifestyle of the 12-14 hour a day entrepreneur, but usually without any (or many) of the associated benefits.

    The owner and entrepreneur grinds it out because they have a vision, passion, and 'need' to see that vision realized. The W2 wage guy grinds it out usually for different reasons, to fulfill different needs, (almost all of which are financial), and that might be met just as easily somewhere else, and maybe in only 10 hours a day instead of 14.

    I guess I really need an editor because after re-reading this I think I just churned 800 words to re-state the obvious - that leaders and organizations can't really expect the kind of sustained passion and dedication and commitment of an entrepreneur when all you are really offering is a few more dollars and the likelihood that your team members are making incredibly tough choices about what they have to miss each day that many of them never thought they'd have to make.

    How many of your team, or possibly even you yourself, are thinking - 'Hey, I never signed up for this?


    Could a robot do your job?

    I've run about a gazillion posts on this site over the last few years about the increasing encroachment of automated technologies and the continual forward progression of smarter and smarter robots that are relentlessly replacing human workers in all manner of capacities and in more and varied industries.

    Robots and robotic technology and their growing presence in the workplace are no longer new or even novel subjects. But still, even when I know I have read hundreds of these kinds of pieces, and written more than my share of similar, every month or so a new and detailed examination of the new era of robotics at work gives me pause, and smacks me across the mug as a kind of reminder that while we like to talk about some vague concept called 'The future of work' as some kind of nirvana of social, mobile, and virtual collection of random and fantastic collaborations, that really this 'future' has just as much a chance to look grim, dystopic, and (mostly) lacking in actual people.

    Do yourself a favor and take some time to read 'Skilled Work, Without the Worker' from the New York Times. The longish piece written by John Markoff does a thorough job presenting examples of the ever-growing application of robot technology in the workplace, particularly in areas and in functions where robots had previously feared to tread, like in distribution centers and even in sportswriting.

    If you don't have the time or are not as inclined as I to read yet another 'robots are taking our jobs' piece I will save you some time with three paragraphs that will give you the flavor of the article, and hopefully make you stop for a moment or two to think about your role, your company, and the real 'future of work' our children will inherit"

    Take the cavernous solar-panel factory run by Flextronics in Milpitas, south of San Francisco. A large banner proudly proclaims “Bringing Jobs & Manufacturing Back to California!” (Right now China makes a large share of the solar panels used in this country and is automating its own industry.)

    Yet in the state-of-the-art plant, where the assembly line runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there are robots everywhere and few human workers. All of the heavy lifting and almost all of the precise work is done by robots that string together solar cells and seal them under glass. The human workers do things like trimming excess material, threading wires and screwing a handful of fasteners into a simple frame for each panel.

    Such advances in manufacturing are also beginning to transform other sectors that employ millions of workers around the world. One is distribution, where robots that zoom at the speed of the world’s fastest sprinters can store, retrieve and pack goods for shipment far more efficiently than people. Robots could soon replace workers at companies like C & S Wholesale Grocers, the nation’s largest grocery distributor, which has already deployed robot technology.

    Sure, you can read pieces like this, or read posts like many of the ones I have done over the years about this topic and think - 'That's interesting, but I don't have to worry about that. I'm a knowledge worker,  I'm a leader. No robot can do my job.'

    Maybe so. Maybe no one robot can do your entire job as it is constituted today. But probably some element of any job could be fully automated, and who is to say that a more flexible approach to both role definition coupled with we know will be the continuous improvement and advancement of robot technology would change the way your organization looks at all kinds of jobs, including the ones held by smarty-pants knowledge workers like you.

    So if the question is really 'Could a robot do your job?', it is increasingly looking like there are only two possible answers. 'Yes' and 'Not yet.'


    He toyed with me. He lied to me. He intimidated me.

    Negotiating anything, whether its the sale price of that new, shiny Mercury Montego, or the details of a potential job offer, can be a difficult, tense, uncomfortable, and often a disappointing process.

    For many, particularly those of us not inclined to enjoy the competition of a negotiation, or simply less practiced in the art of negotiation, it can be really easy to feel like you've come out second-best, that you've paid too much for the car, the house, or settled for less money or left something on the table when trying to hammer out that new or renewed employment agreement. When most of us are up against that car salesperson, who makes deals for a living, well drawing from our prior experience haggling over the Montego in 1977 usually doesn't provide enough foundation for confidence.I have no idea if this is true

    But I think much of the angst associated with these negotiations arises from the mentality that one side has to win, and one has to lose, and that usually the 'house', (the car dealer, the employer, the merchant), has the upper hand. If someone is going to squirm and flinch first in the battle, it's going to be you with your paltry, limited experience in wheeling and dealing.

    But it doesn't always have to be that way. Sometimes you do actually have the upper hand entering the deal, even if you don't completely realize it going in. And sometimes, maybe more often that we like to admit, even a spirited, aggressive, both sides all in kind of negotiation can end with everyone keeping their dignity and moving on with the understanding that negotiation is part of the game, and business is business, and you can even gain more respect for someone willing to fight for their side and not just give up, or conversely, to bully their way to a 'win'.

    Case in point - check the comments (kind of said with a little bit of a smile, admittedly), from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich regarding the recently concluded contract extension negotiations between the team, and their long time, and legendary player Tim Duncan, who certainly an all-time great, at 36 is in the twilight of his career.

    Here's Popovich, (representing the house):

    “He toyed with me. He lied to me. He intimidated me. He threatened me. In the end, it worked out. But I had to take much abuse to get it done.”

    What's good about this, and Popovich's attitude about how the negotiations were conducted and how they concluded?

    That the house respected the other side of the table, that the team knew that both sides had the right to negotiate hard, and that in the end, the house had to acknowledge the position and value of the talent, and take a little bit of abuse, in order to get a deal done that both parties could live with.

    I get the sense that Duncan too, although he is not quoted in the piece, came away feeling the fight was fair, and that both sides walked away with their heads up, and more importantly, with continued respect for each other.

    Big heavy take away from this story? Probably isn't one, unless it helps to remind all of us, no matter what side of the table we sit on, that the guy/gal across from us has just as much right to be sitting there, and if they did not possess something we needed, then no one would be sitting down at all.

    The other guy has a point of view too, and if you have to take a little bit of heat to let them communicate that point of view, well don't take it personally.

    Happy Monday!


    It doesn't matter how unique your idea is, it matters if it can be copied

    Quick one for a summer Friday and then we can all get back to the beach or backyard or ball game.

    If you have been in New York City's Times Square in the last decade or so, you've probably seen a crowd gather around this guy ---->

    Known as 'The Naked Cowboy', (real name Robert Burck), the Cowboy strolls the square, singing, posing for pictures, and otherwise working the crowd for donations in what has to be called a clever and certainly unusual way to make a living.

    I've seen the Cowboy many times over the years, and while for me, and this is not a knock on the Cowboy really, the novelty has kind of worn off and I think the entire gimmick is silly, he still seems to be getting it done with the crowds of tourists and out of town business folks that make up most of the people in Times Square on any given day.

    You'd think that his angle, parading around Times Square in a pair of speedos and boots, playing guitar and singing songs, and doing it for over 10 years, would have pretty much locked up the market for this sort of thing for the Cowboy, and probably allowed him to feel some security and perhaps even a little bit of complacency, secure in the fact that his act was/is so out there that no one else would be able or interested to get in the game. Heck, after a while I bet he stopped learning new songs or jokes for the crowd, because like any good monopolist, why keep innovating when you've locked up the market?

    Well, according to the UPI, the Cowboy might not have the range all too himself any more, enter the 'Naked Indian'. See right---->

    Same schtick, same angle, different guy, (slightly) different costume, now battling the Cowboy for the hearts, minds, and wallets of the tourists, (as well as potentially battling the Cowboy in court).

    From the UPI story:

    The Cowboy, Robert Burck, who has been playing guitar and singing in his underwear and cowboy hat in Times Square for years, now has a rival in the Indian, Adam Davis, the New York Daily News reported Saturday.

    Burck, who said there are no ill feelings between him and Davis, has nonetheless threatened to sue Davis if he refuses to join Burck’s company, Naked Cowboy Enterprises, a franchise that features Naked Cowgirls and other entertainers.

    “I’ve been here ... 365 days, every day for 13 years and change,” Burck said. “He’s only been here 16 days and missed two already.”

    Davis, who dons underwear and a headdress, said there is room in the busy tourist area for more gimmicks.

    Hard to say how the dueling naked entertainers will get this resolved, but the whole sordid, (and sad), story reminds us all that no matter how unique or unusual your idea or angle is, chances are if it works it's going to be copied. It might take a while for the 'second to market' folks to get there, but if you're only advantage over them is yelling 'I was here first', well for most customers that argument won't mean much or ensure you can hold on to your market.

    If there is someone out there willing to copy the Naked Cowboy, there definitely is someone out there willing to steal your gimmick as well.

    Better learn some new songs this weekend.