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Friday, August 31, 2007

Venting My Frustrations

At work we have this copy machine... need I say more before I start venting?

Every time I'm in a crunch to copy something, like I was this morning, I load my paper in the feed tray and hear this stupid "beep beep" with an error message on the screen that says "Please remove original documents from the glass". The problem is I already did. There are no documents on the stupid glass. So, I try again and again, I log out and in and hit clear and reset.

"beep beep"


I finally have to shut the stupid copier down and restart it and hope that its little computer chip brain forgot what an idiot it is and lets me make the copy.

So, in honor of my frustrations, I give to you one of the best clips in all of movie history, honoring my (and probably most of your) copy machine problems.

*** special note that the sound track, while original to the movie, isn't office friendly ***

You can't honestly tell me that at one time in life you haven't felt like doing that... in the last week.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

The second week of class is in session here on campus and college students can be seen scurrying between buildings, carrying backpacks loaded with books. In today's class, Entrepreneurship 100, I had the distinct privilege of educating 44 freshman about mission statements and setting them on their path for success framed with one concept. "Mantra, not Mission for a start up"

The text I'm teaching from came with a DVD loaded with video clips. About the only one I'll use was one from Guy Kawasaki describing the pointlessness of a mission statement for a start up company. As he talks about minds being ruined with the thought that you have to have a mission statement to be successful, I felt somehow, I was doing my part by giving these young and impressionable students the idea that they don't have to have a mission statement to start a company, and perhaps they will never need one. If they do, we had fun in class playing with the now famous Dilbert Mission Statement Generator so they could avoid the two day, off-site process it takes to write one.

You can watch the video clip I used today in class here [link]. Sorry I couldn't embed it for ease, I'm not refined enough to figure out how to pull that off without Youtube's embed code.

Though I've never called it a mantra, the four words I live by easily fit the definition of my mantra. "Work hard - Have fun" I'm interested to see if anyone has a mantra for their life / business or what it might be if you don't have one yet.

On a side note, Guy Kawasaki is giving free autographed copies of his book, "The Art of the Start" by installing Truemors to your Facebook. [Details here]

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Beauty Is Not Intelligence

In the wise words of the Pet Shop Boys, "I've got the brains, you've got the looks, Let's make lots of money."

Never could these words have had such a profound relevance as this past weekend, when the Miss Teen USA pageant aired. I tuned in briefly to see the top ten finalists get named. I don't enjoy anything about beauty pageants. Not because they aren't politically correct, but because they are generally boring. My only motivation for watching is to see if I can correctly identify the winner before the judges announce it. This time I was VERY, VERY, VERY wrong.

As I watched the ten finalists take their place on one of the ten little highlighted circles at center stage, I picked South Carolina to win. In my defense, this was before I heard her speak.

So as you can tell from this video, she might have the looks, but definitely not the brains.

Aside from all of the stammering and misspoken words (which I've edited out of the following quote) caused, no doubt, by the stress of the event, her basic answer for why 20% of Americans can't find the United States on a world map was, "Our education in the US should help South Africa, Iraq and the Asian countries so we can build up our future."

Perhaps a position in military intelligence would fit her well. Think about it for a second. If she thinks that our education system, which has failed to train 20% of our citizens where our own country is on a map, then how confused can we make our potential enemies like China and Iraq. You put Miss South Carolina in charge of that task and we'll have China dropping nukes on Canada and Iraq flying planes into the Eiffel tower, and then reporting to their commanders "We've destroyed the United States."

The good side of this is that the winner was Hilary Cruz - Miss Colorado. I was glad to see she made the top 10, but didn't think she'd win it all. I guess that's why no one's ever called me to judge one of these contests.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Most Exciting Words To Hear Are "I Have An Idea"

I love hearing the words, "I have an idea". It means someone has been thinking and all great ideas begin with thinking. So, when I read those words, my eyes perked up and I eagerly read on.

A couple of days ago I got this suggestion for a blog posting and I loved it, so I'm going to start incorporating it into my posts. Here was the idea.

"I have an idea: you should do a business related Q&A... kind of like "Dear Abby" for professionals. I would like to submit the first question..."

So, here is the question and my response:

Dear Matt,
I work in a very small company (under 5 employees), and my boss is extremely chatty. His coffee break usually lasts up to 2 hours, where he stands around and chats about the minutiae of his life, his children's lives, etc., to the smallest detail. I am not opposed to this, as it is his company and he can spend his and our time as he chooses. However, I hate that he pries into my personal life. He asks me on a regular basis, "What did you do last night?" This might seem harmless, but he will literally interrogate me on the details of my life. He just left my office, and he asked me what I did last night (softball game), what was the score, how did I feel about it, did we win, what position does my husband play, is he good, did he have any highlights last night, is this every week, does this interfere with my church meeting schedule (no, we meet on Tuesdays), do we meet every week, etc. I really do not want to share every detail of my life and have come to respond with literally one-word answers, trying to deter him from prying. He doesn't take the hint. It's not that I mind sharing about what I did last night, but on my terms. If I don't want to share, I don't think I should be interrogated. It's too much.Of the other employees, one manages to not say anything (and my boss doesn't ask), and the other shares every little detail of her life. Is there any way that I can approach this and ask him to back off, without being rude or disrespectful? After 3 years on the job, I'm not sure how much more I can take.

No Boundaries in Phoenix

Dear No Boundaries in Phoenix,

What you are dealing with is a how to manage the manager issue. It's actually become a quite common problem within businesses today, as management has become much more flat with more middle managers and starting your own business has become easier and more practical. The consequence of these two things is that people who aren't the best managers get thrust into a position where they are forced to become good managers quickly. As a result, the book shelves at Barnes & Noble are overflowing with books on all kinds of "how to be a better manager" topics.

What your boss is doing, is one of two things. The first, though it's a bit of an overkill, is Managing By Wandering Around or MBWA for short. This technique became popular by Tom Peters' book "In Search of Excellence" and in a nut shell is a technique that HP used to keep a pulse on what was going on by getting up from their desk and going out to see what was going on. Not such a novel idea now, but back in the early 80's this was rocket science to most.

The second thing he might be doing is trying to connect to his employees by making them feel he truly and deeply cares not just about their work performance, but in how they are doing personally. It is important, especially in a small business setting, to keep employee morale high both on and off the job. If problems occur at home, they often bleed into the office, so a boss' involvement into a personal life is becoming more common than it used to, though in this case it might be a bit too zealous.

In either case, the first step in managing a manger is trying to figure out what exactly they want and how can you correct their actions while still providing what they want. In this case I'd suggest that your boss wants more than anything for you to know that he cares about your life outside the office. I'd give him confirmation that you know he cares and you've taken notice how much he cares. In addition, he's obviously one who likes to talk a lot, so I'd give him confirmation verbally instead of an email.

Some things to understand about this are, he probably doesn't know that no one appreciates his interrogation methods, nor does he realize that his attempts to motivate employees is actually back firing.

Imagine a young child wanting approval from her parents because she's cleaned the kitchen table off. The parents didn't ask her to clean the table, and in fact she's probably caused more work by not putting things away in the right spot, spilling the salt shaker on the counter and not washing off the plates in the sink so all the food has dried and made more work for Mom and Dad to do than if she hadn't done anything at all. A crucial moment occurs when the parents react. If the parents recognize the effort given, and the intent behind the effort, and don't blast the kid for the screwed up attempt, then the child's need for approval is met. However, if the parents get angry because now they have to clean up the mess, the child's need isn't met and their self-approval goes down with and she starts looking for attention in different ways, even if it ends up being negative attention in the end.

Your boss is the kid and you are the parent. He wants your approval so bad that he keeps trying harder and harder to get your attention and approval, that he keeps bugging you with things just so he gets some - any attention.

I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, but give it a try and see what happens. The next time he comes around to give you the "so what did you do this weekend" talk, respond with, "I did (fill in the blank), thanks for asking. You know I've got a ton of work to do and I'm hoping to get it done so I can get out of here on time today, but I want you to know that I appreciate you asking about how things are going. Let me get back to this real quick because I don't want to miss (fill in the blank) tonight, I promise I'll tell you tomorrow how things go tonight."

You've given him the affirmation he wants. You've redirected his attention to tomorrow when you'll give him a 30 second "drive-by" update on what happened last night. And most important, you haven't given him much room to keep taking up your time, because if he truly does care about your life outside the office, then he will respect your time so you can have a life outside the office.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes. Another idea could be to post your report of what great advice I give and how well it worked to solve your problems and make your life better. Even if you have to lie, it's still a good idea!


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lessons From 14,000 Feet: Part 3

I've had some pretty vivid dreams in my life, and when medical reasons call for Codeine, I used to get these really strange dreams. But, I've never hallucinated to the point of not being able to tell reality from hallucination. I've talked to people who have used LSD and talked about the effects of it, but never really understood what it meant to hallucinate until I was in the last half mile of the ascent.

Because of my physical conditions, my eyes weren't focusing well. It wasn't like I was losing my vision, but things were a little fuzzy around the edges and I had to really concentrate to focus my sight on something. So, as I climbed hand over hand up boulders, my eyes looked at the granite chunks of rock that my feet were treading on.

As I stepped over one small gap between the rocks, I looked down and noticed a fuzzy caterpillar wriggling in the shady spot caused by the rock in front of it. I moved my other foot up and started climbing when I thought to myself that it was kind of strange to see a caterpillar up so high. Being the curious and ever inquisitive person that I am, I backed down the rock to get a closer look at this future butterfly. It took a second for my eyes to lock on it when I realized that it wasn't a caterpillar at all, and it certainly wasn't moving. It was part of the rock itself. Thousands of years ago, some kind of mineral deposit made a black spot in the granite, which to be honest looked nothing like a caterpillar at all.

A couple of more minutes passed and I was struggling for the top when I noticed another caterpillar, this one crawling across the rock in that way caterpillars kind of bunch up, then stretch out. Surprised to see another caterpillar this high, I stopped to look, when I remembered that there was no first one, so this couldn't be another one. Sure enough after I shook my head, blinked hard and forced myself to focus it turned out to be another black spot in the rock.

Fortunately for me, I was seeing fuzzy, cute caterpillars and not some kind of scary snake that was chasing me off the mountain. However, it still spook me a little to think I'd pushed myself that hard.

The business analogy in the story is that when you are pushing yourself hard to grow, or especially save your business, you think you are becoming acutely aware of every little detail that is important. At the rapidly quickening pace you are traveling, you find yourself noticing all kinds of potential problems or solutions or things that you think are important. You are sure that you have some kind of hyper-sensitive super power to zoom in on the exact detail that needs to be paid attention to so that you can turn your company around or take it to the next level.

In reality, your mind is playing tricks on you. You really don't see what you think you see. Your brain wants to find the solution so badly that it begins to connect dots that shouldn't be connected. In essence, in your state of fatigue and/or panic, you begin to see caterpillars, when all that is there is a naturally occurring dark spot on a rock.

The key to surviving this isn't avoiding seeing the caterpillar, it's going to happen to most people. The key is to carefully analyze each caterpillar, forcing yourself to focus on it - analyzing it. If you still see a caterpillar, then get a second opinion. In your current state of mind, you may not be able to focus hard enough to separate reality from hallucination, where an independent set of eyes will bring a different perspective.

Perhaps it really is a caterpillar, but nothing would be worse than acting on something that doesn't really exist.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lessons From 14,000 Feet: Part 2

Oh, if only I'd packed my laptop, or a voice recorder with me I could have had 20 parts to this series of lessons learned at 14,000 feet, but alas, when your brain is oxygen deprived you tend to forget and I have managed to forget all of them except 4.

The second lesson I learned is that when you start your journey, in my case an 11-1/2 mile journey, things start out easy. We walked along up the hill with energy and excitement about the day. We took notice of everything around us. Squirrels were cute, trees were pretty, the morning sun shining through the aspens with a golden radiance that seemed magical. However, as the morning progressed, the pace slowed and the pulse rate quickened as the fun and exciting journey became a burden. It was no longer fun. There was talk of quitting and how much longer could this go on. The end was often no where in sight, hidden by obstacles, trees and rocks. We literally had to force ourselves to take the next steps.

The analogy of business is that our hike is like all of the people starting their businesses. In the beginning, things seem fun and exciting. Everyone has dreams of making it to the top looking out at the vast world from a sense of accomplishment. However, as people encounter obstacles and the journey becomes more difficult, people quickly loose sight of the objectives they once had. They stop thinking about how much fun it was in the beginning and only think about how hard it is right now. Many quit and give up, never making the summit.

My brother-in-law asked me if at any time I ever thought I wasn't going to make it. The question never even crossed my mind and I was surprised to realize that not once in the entire climb (even while puking) did I even wonder could I keep going or was I ever going to see the top of this mountain. It was something I set out to do and it was something I was going to accomplish.

That unquestioned determination is what it takes to be an entrepreneur. You have to start with your goal in mind, and you have to stay so focused on reaching it that you never once question whether or not it is possible.

If my father told me once he's told me a thousand times that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. So can you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lessons Learned at 14,000 Feet: Part 1

When your body is dehydrated, exhausted and oxygen deprived somehow things become clearer, or perhaps they go so far around the distortion circle they seem to become clearer again. Maybe I'm still a little delusional because that makes no sense.

My point is this, as I was walking up Mount Shavano I crossed the tree line which was about 12,000 feet in elevation at 9:00am, I was totally exhausted. I hadn't had anything to eat since my bowl of apple cinnamon oatmeal at 6:00am and realized that I should probably feed myself something for some energy as I was burning calories fast.

My pulse rate was around 160bpm as I sat resting on a rock and sipped some water while I ate dehydrated fruit from my zip lock baggie. After a few minutes my pulse rate dropped enough that I felt pretty good again and started walking. As the sugar from the fruit kicked in, I felt a sudden burst of energy and started walking faster and faster. After 20 minutes of a quick pace, climbing higher and higher I spotted a rock about 300 yards ahead on the trail and told my brother in law that it looks like a good place for a rest. As I approached our resting place, I suddenly felt a little queasy and instantly recognized that I was going to puke.

From all my years of running, I knew what it felt like to run until you puke, so this was not a new feeling for me. However, it was new from the standpoint of all I did to get to this point was to simply walk. A few quick breathing techniques to prolong the inevitable until I could get my pack off and get situated and then BLAAACHHHHGH!!! From that point on I felt great and never got sick again.

Not only is that a nice story, but it has a purpose too. Kind of an Aesop's fable sort of meaning behind it. Just as I was aware enough to recognize that I was going to get sick, you have to be aware enough to recognize when things in your business aren't going as well as they should be. Sometimes your body just needs to clear out what's inside and start fresh. A business can get sick and sometimes all that is left to do is launch out what is making it sick.

This sickness could be from lots of different things: bad employees, bad financial management, bad contractors to name a few. What makes you sick isn't the most important thing at first. The most important thing at first is to realize that you're going to puke.

The lesson from 14,000 feet is this. If you feel like you're going to puke, you probably will.
If you feel like something isn't going right in your business, it probably isn't.

If you know you're going to puke, take the time to assess the situation, find the most appropriate place for this to happen and brace yourself, but dont' fight it.
If you know your business is sick, take some time to figure out why, determine the best way to remove the sickness and let it go.
Businesses owners have a tendency to hold on to what makes them sick. For all the risk they endure, they don't want to let go and risk change, but sometimes launching a bowl of oatmeal is what is required to make things better.

On a side note, I still like oatmeal, just not so sure how much I'll be eating apple Cinnamon in the near future.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Climbing a Fourteener

This past weekend my brother-in-law and I headed out to take the first step in a long-term goal we set together.
In the state of Colorado, there are 54 mountain peaks that are over 14,000 feet tall. We decided we wanted to climb them all. So, we started by selecting two peaks that we could climb in the same day, packed our backpacks and drove out.

Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Peak were the first two to experience our hiking boots on them. It was a great experience, though a grueling physical challenge, perhaps the toughest I've ever had. While running a marathon was tough, it didn't last 10 hours. I've got some great stories to tell and lessons learned from 14 thousand feet that I will share later, but for now, here are some pictures of the event.

This is us on top of Mount Shavano. Some guy, who took our picture, handed us this piece of cardboard with the mountain's name and information on it. I'm not sure where he found cardboard at 14,000 feet, but it makes us look like a couple of homeless guys trying to hitch a ride to Denver.

Here we are on top of Tabeguache Peak. By the way, check out my cool hat. I got it or Father's Day this summer in anticipation of climb. Not only is it stylish, but it is extremely practical as the sun is much more intense at 14,000 feet and will actually cause your head to blister if you don't wear a hat. Trust me... or better yet, trust my brother in law (the one without the hat).

I'll post more this week about my experiences puking and hallucinating and how that relates to business. I've got some other lessons I learned, and will pass them along as well as some more great pictures of the beautiful views.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Maybe Next Year

Nothing to do with Business. This is strictly an attempt to obtain comments from my soon to be jealous readers.

Tonight, I am on my way to Denver with my wife and good friends from Wisconsin to see the Colorado Rockies play the Chicago Cubs. We got great seats down the third base line and with any luck I'll be able to bring home a foul ball.

Perhaps those of you (you know who you are) who like the Cubbies and keep saying how fun it would be to come out and visit us, will actually find the time next summer to come visit when the Cubs are in town.
Maybe next year will be the year. If not, maybe the year after that, or the one after that. Certainly it won't be more than another 5 or 6 years will it?

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Molding Young Minds

I just found out last night at 9:30 that I'm going to be teaching a class here at the University on entrepreneurship this fall semester. So, not only do I get to impact / pollute (you decide which is more correct) the minds in the community, but I also get to have that same effect on college students. This will be my second year of teaching BYOB (Be Your Own Boss) to a bunch of freshmen and now this class will involve the entrepreneurial side of technology firms as part of our new Bachelors of Innovation program.

Honestly, I cant think of a more appropriate topic to teach to college students today. This article talks about how today's generation is perhaps more entrepreneurial than any other before it. Saying that the college campus is now a fertile breeding ground for company builders says a lot about our young minds.

Jeff Cornwall, the Massey Chair in Entrepreneurship at Belmont University in Nashville is quoted saying, "Forty percent or more of students who come into our undergraduate entrepreneurship program as freshmen already have a business."

When I was 18 I didn't even know what I wanted to do, much less have a company started to do it. Kudos to the young kids.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Cost of Doing Business

I got this email from my good friend who was the best man in my wedding. We were exchanging email back and forth and reminiscing about the good old days.

[you are] Giving me flashbacks with all that talk about AIT, Duane and Jennifer - man, she was cute, little anal retentive though (like Kari wasn't.) Weren't we trying to blow up fish in Duane's pond that trip too? Any idea of what he and Mike doing now? Soooooo many good times! Camping at Arrowhead, going to Iowa games with you and your folks, Model UN trips which were basically about checking out brainiac girls, torturing Fiscus and Martin constantly, joining the cross-country team with you (sorry - at least I joined the golf team though - and sucked!) That party at your place before I left for Basic is still the best sending-off I've ever had, and definitely helped keep me going during that 10 weeks of hell. I remember getting back and laughing because I had no hair, and you had more-or-less a curly-haired afro. All things considered though, we really were pretty good kids back then, eh? We didn't really drink, never touched a drug, never got suspended from school (more than a few detentions though!). Hope our kids are as good as we were when they hit their teens.
Reading this, and then re-reading it about 3 times made me think about how much different my life was back then and how much different I imagined my life to be now. At age 16 I was going to never grow up. I was always going to blow with the wind and be carefree until the day I died and wear my curly haired afro til the day I died. Somewhere along the way, I came to the conclusion that I had to grow up if I wanted certain things in life.

So, along the way, I sold off portions of carefree and cut my hair (or maybe it just fell out) for more responsibility and something I wanted more than being able to spend a whole day doing nothing. I'm not sad about it. I knew what I was doing and would never want to go back with my receipt and try to get a refund. It was a necessary expense to get what I wanted more than to be carefree. It was the cost of doing business.

Now here's the business analogy. When you started your business, did you say to yourself, "I'm always going to provide the best quality at the best prices possible." Did you make promises that you would always serve the customer no matter what? Did you swear on a stack of Bibles that you would never cut corners no matter what the savings and you were going to donate a percentage of your business to a charity - you probably even had the charity picked out before your first sale.

Most entrepreneurs make these kind of 'curly haired afro' promises to themselves. But, the difficulty is that as you get into your business, things like cash flow and that pesky Accounts Payable keep trying to take a priority over your promises.

What makes this hard is when we hear the successful business owner talk about how they made a commitment to customer service, or some other promise you tried making but haven't been able to keep, and that's why they are so successful. Just remember, it's easy to talk a big talk when you're making money hand over fist. But, when you're in the trenches trying to make payroll by Friday so your employees come back to work on Monday and you can keep your clients, it is much harder said than done.

So, while lofty ideals are good to start with, don't be discouraged if you find yourself in the predicament of cutting a corner or two to get the job done. Remember the old saying, "If you shoot for moon and miss you'll be among the stars." Which isn't such a bad thing either, it is just part of the cost of doing business.

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