"We put little weight on the idea. We ask mainly out of politeness. The kind of question on the application form that we really care about is the one where we ask what cool things you've made. If what you've made is version one of a promising startup, so much the better, but the main thing we care about is whether you're good at making things. Being lead developer of a popular open source project counts almost as much." - Paul Graham : "Want To Start A Startup?"
Ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is the key. Rarely is your idea going to be a completely original one; and if it is a good one, be sure that someone else is probably thinking the same thing.
But you differentiate through execution. And really, execution is the hard part.
Being able to execute an idea is vital to a business, and if your business is made up of people that do more walking than talking, than you are on the right track. You can remain agile in idea and efficient in execution. But if your co-founders are the opposite, you might need to re-evaluate the arrangement.
Circuit City Stores is firing about 3,400 workers at its stores who are paid "well above the market-based salary range for their role" and will hire new associates for these positions who will earn less, the consumer electronics retailer said Wednesday.
In a news release, the Richmond, Va.-based company said the layoffs were made to improve its cost and expense structure.
Circuit City did not provide details on how much the affected workers are compensated or how much the new hires would earn at what the company calls the "current market range."
Mark my words: Circuit City will go out of business in the near future. When you run a retail store, the in-store experience is everything. It doesn't matter how good or bad you think their service is right now: by deciding to get rid of thousands of employees to replace them with cheaper, less experienced staff, customers will get lousy service. And be less inclined to ever return. Since they don't offer the lowest prices ala Wal-Mart, there's simply no reason to shop there.
No amount of advertising or marketing can save them after a pathetic business decision like this. Saving money in the short run isn't going to help. The retraining costs and the inevitable turnover you get with the new bottom-of-the-barrel workers will hasten the decline.
They're killing their brand. It's that simple.
1. Focus on the CustomerBecause we like to focus on brand stuff, here's what Rob has to say about #3:
2. Monitor the Competition
3. Own the Brand.
4. Find & Direct Outside Vendors.
5. Create New Ideas.
6. Communicate Internally.
7. Manage a Budget.
8. Understand the ROI.
9. Set the Strategy, Plan the Attack, and Execute.
"The perceptions and feelings formed about an organization, its products / services, and its performance is what is known as its “brand.” The Marketing Department is responsible for creating meaningful messages through words, ideas, images, and names that deliver upon the promises / benefits an organization wishes to make with its customers. Furthermore, the Marketing Department is responsible for ensuring that messages and images are delivered consistently, by every member of the organization."Not a bad start. And for the most part, yes, he is right.
1. Befriend your customers.
2. Become your market. (Don't just monitor the competition. Rewrite the rules. Set the pace. Lead. Outdistance your competition. Make them copy you. Force them to up their game.)
3. Breathe your brand.
4. Recruit and direct outside vendors.
5. Foster Innovation.
6. Simplify your internal communications. Then simplify them again. And again. And again.
7. Strategize as if your budget had been slashed in half. Deliver as if your budget had been twice what it actually is.
8. Make your ROI completely clear to your clients and everyone in your organization.
9. Observe, adapt, strategize, anticipate, plan, execute. ... and be ready to improvise at a moment's notice.
"There are two kinds of people in the world. Members of the first group think of jobs as being rather like boxes, each of which has a monetary figure on it as well as a set of levers inside. A job-holder occupies a box, yanks on the box's levers, and in return receives pay in the amount of the prescribed monetary figure. Lucky workers are those who land in boxes paying big money and whose levers are easy to manipulate; unlucky workers are those who find themselves in boxes paying little money and whose levers are difficult to manipulate."
"The second group of people in the world understands that real jobs are a matter of creating value for buyers. The greater the amount of value I create for others, the better -- or, at least, the higher-paying -- is my job. In markets, your job isn't a box that you get assigned to; your job is an opportunity to perform, to help improve the lives of others and, in return, to persuade these others to help you improve your life.
"And one of the most important of these performances is corporate management -- the ability to coordinate large amounts of resources, time, and workers in ways that create large amounts of value for others and that makes it easier for those of us with less vision and administrative ability to find jobs that maximize the value that each of us, individually, creates for others."
"My mother said to me, 'If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.' Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso."
A friend and training mentor once told me, "The secret of the pros is that they train in secret." For a while that made sense. It seemed that where performance is highly optimized -- and where optimization is highly coveted -- it would make sense that methodology would be closely guarded.
But secret methodology is the province of world-class athletes; not of participants; nor of enthusiasts. Most people -- if sufficiently motivated, and if unencumbered by lame excuses that they assign to genetics -- want to know the secret that distinguishes the pros from themselves. The real "secret" of the fit, the fast and the "talented" is no secret at all; it's a much harder pill (than genetics) to swallow. And no one will accept it because of what it demands: real commitment in the form of regular, consistent, indefinite practice. And real practice demands devotion.
THE PROS TRAIN. And they train consistently and indefinitely. In other words, they commit.
People love to say that they don't train (or practice or study...) They think it makes their mediocre performance more impressive. Or they use a hero as an example, saying he or she doesn't practice either. But the truth is that anyone who becomes really world-class good at anything has devoted a large part of their lives to that thing -- often to the exclusion of all else. They may not call it "training" or "practice;" the actual labels are irrelevant. It's the time spent that counts.
"Practice" and "training" are not timelines and diet plans -- although those are effective parts of it. Real training means committing to the process: showing up at the keyboard or behind the lens or in the ring or on the rope, and doing it religiously, even when you're tired, even when you've got nothing to say, even when it's too cold, too hot, too hard.
People wish they had talent. They see it as a practice-free ticket to crowd-stunning skill. But talent doesn't exist. "Talent" doesn't get results; practice and devotion do.
Was Picasso gifted from birth with the talent to become an artistic genius? Or was he gifted with the tenacity to become a genius at anything? As he wobbled down the street on his first bicycle, did his mother see her son's uncommon ability, or his uncommon focus and determination? What led her to predict that he would be great? Was he out-of-the-womb a brilliant finger-painter? Or was he just stubborn?
- Scott Semple
"History is inconveniently complex. And so we get Frank Miller's version, in which everything is simplified to the point of porridge." - Stephen Witty
"Months before its release 300 already was revered by those who consider it a magnificent achievement for a live-action film to look exactly like a video game. Forgive me, but I don't see that as a reason to celebrate." - Jeffrey Westhoff
"300 is about as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid." - A.O. Scott
High performers expect to be rewarded for their effort. They also expect to be rewarded regardless of where they stand in the "pay scale" for their position. These people expect to be better compensated than someone who is not performing at their level. If you want average, stagnant performers, give them average, stagnant compensation. If you want to retain high performers, find ways to make them feel that they aren't wasting their time providing you with superior work.
Several years ago, a friend found out that a co-worker whose job was exactly the same as hers was making significantly more than she was. This co-worker spent most of his day checking his stocks, surfing the web and talking to his friends on the phone. While her work exceeded expectations, his lagged - but their boss liked him better. Her decision to go work for someone else was triggered by the realization that there was no correlation between pay and performance.
Top performers are usually looking over the horizon. They may be well compensated, have great benefits and like what they do, but if they ever come to the conclusion that there is nothing to strive for, or that management is holding them back (either for selfish department reasons or personal resentment) they will seek and find the opportunity they desire... elsewhere.
I have seen the personal resentment factor ruin many an organization, and I can't help but shake my head at this kind of nonsense every time. If I had a dollar for every manager who purposely held back top talent because they felt threatened by their success, I could... well, I could probably fill up my gas tank. Advancement ceilings - whatever their reasons may be - are never a good situation if you plan on holding on to top people.
Some of the greatest rewards are those that don't involve money. Recognition among co-workers and industry peers is a super motivational tool for performers who exceed expectations.
How difficult is it to say thank you, give someone an ataboy and brag someone up from time to time? I mean really. Is it so hard? These things are all simple, easy, painless and free.
The best performers want to know what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do it, and most importantly, WHY they are supposed to do it that way. When any of these conditions becomes unclear, the best of the best will want clarity and accountability. If management is not a resource for the top performers, they will start to lose respect for management. Once this happens, good luck trying to hold on to that great employee much longer.
This is probably the biggest killer of good will within companies. If I can't respect my own boss, chances are that I am not going to feel super motivated to jump through hoops for him/her. Respect, trust and admiration are essential to any boss/employee relationship from the battlefield to the corporate world. Period. Once a manager loses the respect of their employees, you might as well draw the curtain and stop the clock, because the play is over.
Clarity is also super important. A leader who isn't able to communicate to his or her people exactly what they want needs to learn how to do so. Quickly.
Recent studies have shown that an employee's opinion of the company he/she works for is a direct reflection of their opinion of their immediate supervisor. If a top performer does not respect his or her supervisor, they will have a corresponding lack of respect for their company.
Nobody likes a bully. I've seen top talent walk away from jobs they otherwise loved simply because their bosses were abusive. Nothing sours a job faster than a jerk taking his frustrations or insecurities out on his staff.
As an aside -
Typical traits of lousy managers:Okay. Here is the last one from Jack's list:
- Excessive demands & personal sacrifices.
- Placing their department in a continual state of crisis.
- A demand for employees to be available at all hours.
- Setting unreasonable deadlines.
- Pony Express management style (Ride 'em till they drop), causing burnout, stress and depression in their people.
- Abusive treatment of employees.
- Being too busy to make themselves helpful.
- Acting annoyed at requests for help, advice or insight.
- Making last-minute unilateral decisions that make absolutely no sense.
- "Big Stick" management. (Screw up, and I will hit you over the head with the big stick.)
- A complete lack of trustworthiness
If you want to keep your best performers, don't let them become part of the flood waters of reorganization. While reorganization or a sale of a business is just part of life for most people these days, top performers are still looking at things in the long term. If they are convinced that a reorganization is a good thing for their career AND management communicates well, top performers can become some of a company's greatest advocates. If management fails to help top performers negotiate these changes in a way that will fall in line with their long term expectations, and they will walk.
Uncertainty sucks. Top performers love challenges, but if thry feel that their work or careers are likely to suffer as a result of an unstable professional environment, they will jump ship faster than you can learn to spell "denial". It's that simple.
Design is one of the few professions dominated by its clientele. Compared to physicians, attorneys, and academics, designers are inclined to do what they're told. That posture is so widely accepted among designers it sometimes seems that the only ones who can occasionally insist on having things their way are the superstars of design.
That is such an old story among designers that perhaps it is small wonder that designers tend not see themselves as leaders. If they have learned not to expect their professional judgements to sway clients or employers, how can they imagine leading corporations or communities, to say nothing of exercising leadership in the developing global arena? It is simply impossible for most designers to think of themselves as having a place in high councils of decision making.
But that is where designers are most needed - at the top. It is a travesty that the only professionals close to the CEO's are lawyers and accountants. Designers have more to offer, because increasingly our organizations need to be design driven, not just market driven. To truly prosper, our global society must have its needs met, not just its wants.
Instead, designers who work in organizations worry about not being appreciated, worry that their work is not understood by top management. As a result they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to educate the CEO about the benefits of design consciousness, not realizing that every other department is also trying to educate the CEO about the potential contribution it could make, because its members feel similarly misunderstood and unappreciated.
The truth is that CEO’s don’t understand any of the professions or groups represented in the organization—and never will. Because things change so fast, they don’t even understand the departments they came from. They have other concerns. They have to see the big picture. Most of their time is spent on matters having nothing to do with the internal operations of the organizations they head—industry wide issues, government relations, community needs, raising capital, and so on.
The better strategy for designers would be to regard the current effort to educate the CEO about how designers see the world as a lost cause, and instead try to educate themselves on how the CEO sees the world. Is it possible for designers to try to gain that top leadership perspective? If and when they do, they can become the indispensable people occupying chairs at the directors’ table.
Designers, however, are understandably reluctant to leave their drawing boards or computers, preferring hands-on work with their design problems. Leading, making it possible for others to work with those design problems, somehow seems non-creative, not what they were trained to do. Nevertheless, that is the necessary change that that designers are going to be called upon to make in what has been called The Design Century. If desisgn will be the byword of the next century, designers will have to take their places as leaders of that century.
The fact that it is a difficult change to make shouldn’t deter design professionals who have already made many fundamental changes. Indeed, anyone who is still doing what he or she was trained to do is obsolete. In the past few years many designers have become cyberdesigners working in electronic space, metadesigners helping laymen create their own designs, entertainment designers who never expected to be designing experiences rather than things, and so forth. The change to a leadership posture shouldn’t be more difficult.
Many years ago my friend, the late designer George Nelson, told me a story I will never forget. Early in his career George worked for a time with Frank Lloyd Wright. One day when George and the great prairie architect were taking a walk and talking, Wright was struggling to find a metaphor that would explain the essence of architecture. At one point he stopped and pointed to a flower, saying, "Architecture is like this flower….no, that’s not it." He then walked a bit farther, turned and said, "George, architecture is like being in love." After he told me that story George said, "Dick, I hope it doesn’t take you as long as it took me to figure out what he meant by that."
Well, I’m afraid that it did. But I’m beginning to get the idea. It is a paradox. In order to be a professional, one must be an amateur. The word amateur comes from the Latin amator, meaning to love. An amateur is one who does something for the love of it. Of course. Love and passion are the organizing forces in leadership and management, overriding technique or skill, just as they are in almost everything worthwhile doing—romance, parenthood, creativity.
Paraphrasing Wright—leadership, then, is like being in love. And paraphrasing George—I hope it will not take you as long to understand that as it took me.
Leadership is like being a good host at a dinner party. Consider what that entails. A good host thoughtfully plans the evening, carefully composes the group, takes pains to create the proper environment, arranges the appropriate seating, sets the agenda or program for the evening, introduces subject matter for discussion, lubricates difficult situations, soothes relationships, takes responsibility, moves things along, attends to details, keeps controversy at a manageable level, adds humor and optimism, comes early and stays late, brings guests into the conversation who previously may have been marginal, handles one thing after another, shifts attention easily, listens well, doesn’t dominate, is at ease with self and others, and, most important, enables the guests to be at their best.
Leadership is not a skill. There are no "expert" leaders, just as there are no "expert" friends or husbands or parents. The more important a relationship, the less skill matters. Leadership is a high art. It is too important to be a skill. It needs to be understood and appreciated for its esthetic qualities, for its gracefulness and beauty, just as we appreciate these qualities in a great athlete—quite apart from that athlete’s contribution to the victory. While we can appreciate them in their own right, in both sport and leadership these esthetic qualities are fundamental to success.
All this must make it seem that becoming a leader is a rather tall order. But there is good news. You already know how. One of the amazing facts about leadership and management is that you can take people right off the production line and make them managers. Without an hour of training they start right in, and the great majority succeed. That’s not because the job is easy. In fact, leadership is the most complex, difficult, responsible job our society offers. It makes brain surgery look easy. The reason that brand new managers can do it is that they already know how.
We all have a mastery of roles that we seldom if ever get a chance to play. That new manager has experienced leadership in so many situations in life that he or she has unconsciously acquired the role, and only needed the right situation for the right behavior to be elicited.
Designers have even better preparation than most to assume leadership. They are especially qualified. Designers are already good at seeing things in context, already understand the sweep of history, already are conversant in the arts, sciences and humanities (as are the best leaders), already are good at working in ensembles, already are environmentally aware, already understand the limits of technology, its backfiring nature, already are capable of a high level of creative thinking, already can appreciate the esthetic dimensions of leadership. The first step, then, is for designers to begin to imagine themselves as leaders—of design firms, of communities, of cultural organizations, of corporations—and beyond.
The next 50 years will determine the survival of our civilization. We will succeed only if design becomes the organizing discipline of the future, and that will only happen when designers become leaders. The world needs what designers have to offer—not just on the drawing board, but on the board of directors.