Saturday, July 15, 2006

To the virgins, to make much of time

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry:
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.

My friend Ramit asked me to write up a short list of things that you should do in your 20s, before you get married and have kids. I guess that since I've done both, I qualify, at the age of 31, as an old man.

Even if you're no longer a virgin (or even a "technical virgin"), the sentiments of Herrick's poem still applies--there are things that are much easier to do when you're young, and I hope that this post helps convince you to stop putting them off.


7. Travel
Been putting off your travel plans? Don't! Traveling can be tough enough when you're on your own. Now imagine that you have several kids that have bladders the size of peas, who refuse to eat any food that isn't purple, and who require more supplies than the U.S 3rd Army.

Travel now, or regret it later.

6. Partying
Enjoy eating out? Clubbing? Staying out late? Better live it up now. Unless you go the nanny or boarding school route, your days are numbered. Heading off to Vegas for the weekend is good fun when you're single, but grounds for arrest when you have kids (and don't take them with you).

5. Cleanliness
Kids possess the destructive force of a natural disaster. If you think of each one as a Class 5 hurricane, you wouldn't be far off. After the first 100 times you clean the house, only to see it resemble a crazy cat lady's lair after just a single day of normal play, you'll give up too.

4. Money
Between day care, the rent for a bigger house, clothes, food, toys, and the cost of getting a minivan (seemingly inevitable once you have two kids), my tots run me about $70K a year--post-tax. In other words, I keep about as much money as a single guy making $100K per year less. And you wonder why my friends have houses, and I still rent--it's because I was the first among my peers to have kids, by a wide margin.

When I was still in college, my roommate told me about encountering some middle-aged guys on the golf course. They told him, "Do you like golf? Nice cars? Guitars? The good life? Then never have kids! I could have bought a handful of Ferraris with the money I've sunk into my kids."

3. Sleep
Imagine not getting a full night's sleep for 4-5 years. Yeah, welcome to my world. You'd be surprised how much you'll crave sleep once you have kids. I wouldn't kill a family member or friend to get more sleep, but I'd consider offing a stranger or a member of Congress. (Who am I kidding--I'd do the Congressperson for free!)

2. Sex
If, by some wild coincidence, you actually are a virgin, let me tell you that sex rocks. It really is as good as people make it seem on TV. The problem is, it's hard to find time for sex when you're chronically sleep deprived and have several light sleepers who could burst into your room at any time, and I mean AT ANY TIME. Gives new meaning on the term, "pressure to perform," when you know your kids might wake up if the dog barks.

When you're young, having sex three times in a night might seem routine. When you have kids, having sex three days in a row is a major accomplishment.

1. Free Time
You may not know this, but you have ridiculous amounts of free time right now. You just waste it. Once you have two or more kids, you'll be lucky to have an hour a day to yourself outside of work. Rather than going to Sheryl Crow concerts, you'll find yourself hoping that she makes a guest appearance on Sesame Street, just to hear something off her new album (even if the lyrics have been changed from to feature "The Letter I" and "The Number 7."

Now life as an old man can still be pretty darn good, despite all these drawbacks. It's not that life as a 20something is better, it's just different. Enjoy the life you have while you have it, because once it's gone, it's gone.

Anyone Can Be A Star, But Everyone Can't Be A Star

Originally posted as a comment on Fred Wilson's blog.

One important thing to note about our shift to a long tail world is that it doesn't necessarily change the demand side of the supply and demand equation that much.

I am a huge fan of the user-generated content and perhaps more importantly, the user-centric filtering revolutions. Rather than rely on corrupt systems like network television, Hollywood studios, newspapers or the music industry to link creators and consumers of content, we now have the technology to being them together directly.

This breaks down many silly and unfair barriers, such as the requirement to move to Los Angeles or New York to be discovered in the entertainment industry. The American distrust of this sort of elitism can be seen by the wild success of American Idol, where anyone can succeed or fail on their own merits, rather than their "connections."

But let's not overstate the case here.

There are fundamental limits to the amount of filmed entertainment that can be demanded, such as the total population of the market and the average waking hours of those individuals. At most, I can only consume about 16 hours of media per day (and with Americans watching TV 7 hours per day, there isn't much upside).

In the long run, artists can only be paid the amount of money that their patrons and customers spend.

It's unclear to me that there are any vast increases to this pot in the offing. If I'm right, then one of two things will happen:

1) The number of "stars" will stay constant, but our means for discovering them will shift from centralized and autocratic to decentralized and democratic.

2) The number of "stars" will dramatically increase, but the average economic benefits of being a star will nosedive as the pot is split between a much larger number of players.

The same holds true of Web 2.0--anyone can start a company, but doesn't that just mean more people splitting the same pot at the end of the rainbow?

This is not to say that what's happening isn't real, or isn't important. It's just that "anyone can be a star" doesn't mean that it's easier to become a star, or that being a star will be as profitable as it was in the past.

Anyone can be a star, but everyone can't be a star.

You Have A Friendly Face

I have a friendly face. My wife says that it's because I grew up in California rather than New York, and this missed out on developing the instinctive scowl that New Yorkers wear.

Panhandlers and solicitors never fail to approach me, sensing an easy mark. Children wave. Even the animals seem to know.

But when I go out for a walk with my dog and my 2-year-old daughter, watch out! A simple stroll around the block inevitably turns into an hour-long odyssey with 4-5 separate conversations. Just today, we:
  • Met Maggie, a 7-week-old golden retriever
  • Talked with a kindly great-grandmother of three about her great-grandkids in Colorado
  • Met Jake, a 6-year-old labrador mix from the pound
  • Played with Kobe's friend Piper, a three-year-old golden retriever

Who needs social networking when you've got a friendly face, a gorgeous dog, and a cute little baby?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Book Summary: Small Giants

by Bo Burlingham

As you may recall from my post on the importance of being a great place to work, I'm a big fan of the book, "Small Giants." I like to try to summarize the books I really enjoy so that I can better apply their lessons, and I'd like to pass them on to you. Of course, what I hope is that this taste will whet your appetite for reading the entire book. It is well worth it, and may change the way you think about your business and career.

What are the common characteristics of companies that have the "mojo"

1) The leaders question the usual definitions of success in business and imagine other possibilities

2) The leaders build the kind of business they want to live in, rather than accommodating themselves to outside forces

3) The companies have an extraordinarily intimate relationship with their locations

4) The companies cultivate exceptionally intimate relationships with customers and suppliers, based on personal contact, 1:1 interaction, and mutual commitment to delivering on promises. The effect is a sense of community and common purpose between companies, their suppliers, and their customers

5) The companies have unusually intimate workplaces. "They were in effect functional little societies that strove to address a broad range of their employees' needs as human beings--creative, emotional, spiritual, and social needs as well as economic ones."

6) The companies may have unique corporate structures and modes of governance

7) The leaders bring passion to whatever the company does. "They had deep emotional attachments to the business, to the people who worked in it, and to its customers and suppliers--the sort of feelings that are the bane of professional management."

What is the essence of "mojo"?

The leaders are very clear about what life has to offer at its best--exciting challenges, camaraderie, compassion, hope, intimacy, community, a sense of purpose, feelings of accomplishment--and they have organized their businesses so that they and the people they work with can get it.

When outsiders come into contact with such a business, they can't help but feel the attraction. The company is cool because what's going on inside is good, fun, interesting, something you want to be associated with.

"Mojo is more or less the business equivalent of charisma....Companies with mojo have a quality that makes people want to be a part of them."

Every founder/leader has a passion for what their companies do. They love it, and have a burning desire to share it with other people. They thrive on the joy of contributing something great and unique to the world.

Small giants focus on the relationships that the company has with its various constituencies--employees, customers, community, and suppliers. The relationships are rewarding in and of themselves, but their strength also reveals the degree to which people are inspired by the company, and its ability to inspire them is the best measure of how they perceive the value of what the company does.

Norm Brodsky: "When most people visit my company and look around one of my warehouses, all they see are boxes. They see hundreds of thousands of boxes neatly arranged on shelves that rise up to the ceiling, almost 56 feet high. But when I look around that warehouse, I se something different. I see a fabulous business that my employees and I have built from scratch. You walk into my place and all you can smell is cardboard. I love it. That smell gets my juices flowing. I think you need to feel in your gut that whatever you do is the most interesting, exciting, worthwhile thing you could be doing at that moment. Otherwise, how could you convince anyone else? If I thought storing boxes on shelves was boring, I never would have been able to attract the great people I work with, and we wouldn't have been able to accomplish what we've done."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

John Bogle Is Amazing

John Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, is simply amazing.

John is 77 years young--take a listen to this podcast. I would never guess from listening to him that he had been born during the Great Depression! I can only hope that when I'm his age, I have a fraction of his charisma, wit, and charm.

The most amazing point he made was when he described when he realized that indexing was the way to go. He conducted a simple experiment: he calculated how much you would make over 40 years of compounding, first with an index fund, and then second, with the average actively-managed fund.

The index fund compounded $1,000 to $140,000.

The actively managed fund, with average annual return just 1.5% lower, compounded to $37,000.

In other words, as John put it, "The investor in an actively managed fund, who provides all of the capital and takes all of the risk, gets 26% ($37,000 of $140,000) of the total return. The financial industry, which provides no capital and takes no risk, gets 74% of the total return."


I'll leave you with an example of John's good humor. After describing how he was fired as head of the Wellington Management Group, then started Vanguard, he joked: "I left my old job the exact same way I took my new job--fired with enthusiasm!"

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Most Important Discipline For A Company To Master Today

Strategy books like "The Discipline of Market Leaders" argue (quite correctly in my opinion) that to dominate a market, a company must choose a single discipline on which to focus. TDML lists the three choices as "best product, best total solution, or best total cost"; I prefer the formulation "efficiency, innovation, or customer service."

For a long time, I thought that was enough. After reading "Small Giants," however, I've realized that there is a fourth discipline that may be even more important.

Being a great place to work.

Whether your focus is efficiency, innovation, or service, being a great place to work is the foundation for excellence.

Would the Toyota Production System work without workers who took pride in continuous improvement?

Would 3M or Google be as innovative without giving workers the freedom to tinker and work on their own ideas, rather than ones handed down by management?

Would Nordstrom's legendary level of service be possible if its associates didn't love their jobs?

It's not about perks and benefits, though of course things like free food and corporate massages usually don't hurt.

It's about providing an environment that meets workers real needs--the things that go beyond simply collecting a paycheck. In fact, being a great place to work may even save you money through greater productivity and lower cash compensation costs.

My visionary friend Don Yates is fond of pointing out that the sole reason an organization exists is to meet the needs of its members. No one can put a gun to your head and make you work at a particular company (at least not in this country).

Yet few companies feel comfortable setting "meeting the needs of its members" as an explicit goal. At best, they might say they want to build a sense of "family" (it is telling that what makes the family relationship unique is the involuntary bond of kinship).

But if a company does acknowledge our basic human needs for connectedness with others, personal growth, and a sense of contributing to something larger, and provide an environment that meets these needs, it can attract the kind of talented, passionate people that will enable it to triumph over all its competitors.

This kind of extraordinary organization has two incredible advantages that make it almost unbeatable: Greater talent and greater productivity.

If I told you that there was a simple piece of management software that would enable you to recruit the best team, and make them more productive than any of your competitors, you'd rush out to buy it.

That magical product already exists. All you have to do is make your company a great place to work.

Building Your Personal Brand: Blog, But Don't Forget Your Posse

In the spirit of outsourcing that has overtaken America, I realized recently that I had largely outsourced agenda setting for this blog to Ben Casnocha.

After fretting about this bit of intellectual laziness on my part, I concluded that I, like Warren Buffet, had simply realized where my talents and assets lay, and was making a wise and foresighted investment of my rhetorical capital in a younger and spryer asset manager.

Be that as it may, I found Ben's recent post on using blogging to control your personal brand intriguing enough to write a follow-up post. Ben writes:

I would prefer to be evaluated for who I am, not my associations. Writing a blog is a great way to route others' "perception formation" to my ideas and life. Here's a question: When someone Googles your name, is the first result a web page you own/control? If you're not near the top, other people's blog posts or press articles are dictating what someone reads about you.

The interesting tension here is that reputation and image are often more affected by what others think and say than by our own words.

For example, no matter how often I tell my wife that I'm "ruggedly handsome" and "rogueishly charming" a la Han Solo, the she'll admit is that I'm "friendly-looking" (panhandlers and solicitors seem to seek me out!) and "mischievous," a la Jar-Jar Binks.

You may protest that I'm self-deluded (although since many of you have never seen my handsome mug face to face, I'd argue that's an unfair judgment to make!), but that is my whole point: We tend to judge folks based on others' opinions, rather than their own statements.

This principle was expressed in a very pure form in the movie, "Never Been Kissed," in which Drew Barrymore plays a 25-year-old reporter who fails miserably at being popular until her ne'er-do-well brother tells her the secret: "All you need is one person who thinks you're cool."

Your blog can showcase your writing. It can let people understand your thought processes. It can even make you richer and improve your sex life. But as a personal branding tool, you'd be wise to also develop a posse that can credibly sing your praises.

Alas, Ben, I guess what I'm saying is that even in the blogosphere, the difference between heaven and hell is the company you keep. Not sure what your current set of complaints about the heat indicates....