Monday, March 31, 2008

Rare times indeed

The NCAA tourney results from this past weekend got me thinking. How often do the best companies deliver the goods when it really counts? For those of you that missed it, all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four for the first time in the 30 year history of the tournament. This is quite a testament to all the other teams that rose up, played beyond their talent, skill, etc. and knocked them off along the way.

Just because your company is a No. 1 seed doesn't give you a pass all the way to the promised land. You still need to wake up every morning, stay focused, work extremely hard and also get a little bit lucky (yes, I'm referring to you Kansas!) to stay No. 1.

Many companies have forgotten this recently and have paid the price for it. Big name brands like Motorola, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and even Google lost their focus and grit and are now paying the price by being nipped at the heels by underdogs.

Can this be said about your company? Are you currently in a market leader spot and untested? What would happen if you were tested by an upstart that had drive, determination and "good enough" talent? Could your team deliver the goods?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Linked In Tips

If you're like me, you have a drive to know a lot of people through networking. I personally try to hit 1-2 industry / social events per week to get to know peers in my region. My favorite tool for online networking is Linked In. I've been amazed to see who I'm one degree away from.

I wanted to give all of you Linked In novices a couple of tips to get the most out of your experience and leverage it to build your contact base.

1) Set up a complete profile - The more items in your profile, the more accessible you will be to people searching for "X". Whether it is school, past employers, technologies, groups, etc. their AI will help to pair you up with people you used to know.

2) Load your contacts - Dumping your contacts into LI will allow the application to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. You'll be surprised at who you already know.

3) Write personal invitation letters - The people you want to link in with may not remember you so a personal note with the invitation goes a long way. It also helps to have a photo in your profile.

4) Write personalized thank you letters! - This little bit of civility goes a long way the next time you ask for recommendations, introductions, etc. You'd thank someone for their time and say "Nice to meet you!" if you met them at a reception wouldn't you?

5) Write recommendations for others - The first rule of networking is never ask your contacts for something first. Do something nice for them and recommend them! This a very powerful tool for staying top of mind, relevant and to build a very positive online brand.

6) Pass along introductions - If someone asks you to introduce them to a contact, first read their profile and if you feel comfortable, pass them along to who they asked. Good things come back to those who help!

7) Join Groups - This was a puzzler for me when I first joined but a simple solution was to just click on the Group logo and you can ask to be a member. Only join Groups that you feel you can contribute content to but it is a great way to meet people with similar interests.

8) Don't be afraid to ask - Business people of all levels use LI and the only way to link with them is to ask. See Rules #3 & #4 above when dealing with execs but you never know unless you ask. They will be getting something out of your contacts as well.

9) Politely decline when you don't want to connect - Bad karma travels fast in the online space and you can get blackballed pretty quickly if you're just not a nice person.

10) Answer Questions - This is a great way to build your online reputation and get to know people on LI. Answer a lot of questions and you'll get a ton of invitations by like-minded individuals with huge amounts of contacts for your network.

Best of luck all and if you want to Link In with me, check the link on the right. Happy networking!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Daily stressors?

How do you deal with daily stressors? What tricks do you use to calm yourself back down?

Here are a few ways that I try:

1> Go for a walk about around the building.
2> Shut the lights and take a mini-snooze.
3> Walk to my car and blare the radio for 10 minutes.
4> Coffee break. The ritual of stirring my Splenda laced beverage calms me regardless of caffeine.
5> Hit the gym. If I have a longer break in my schedule and I can get away, a 20 minute circuit workout will cause me to relax.
6> Minesweeper. An oldie but a goodie to phase out for a bit.
7> Read the Always a good humanitarian story or two to make you realize there are other sad saps out there.
8> Cube chat. Find a work friend and vent for a bit about something other than what you're stressing about.
9> Daydream about starting a business and striking it rich. While coming back to Earth sucks, it's a nice diversion.
10> Lastly, switch gears. Start a different project and put the current one on hold.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Coffee Wars: Coke vs. Pepsi Redux?

As a coffee aficionado, I've watched with keen interest the battle between Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts over the last number of years.  The competitive pressures that they have placed on each other has been great for consumers but not so great for stockholders of SBUX.  That being said, I'm torn as to where to put my allegiance.   

It seems as if I'm being forced to choose a side as a customer.   SBUX has always been perceived as the high-brow, espresso pouring, intellectual big brother to DD's middle-class, approachable, large-regular coffees.  However, with the advent of latte's and other pseudo barista-like drinks, DD encroached upon SBUX's turf with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. 

Now, I grew up in New England and it was almost viewed as heretical to select SBUX for your morning coffee.  It was and is part of the culture of the region.  Legions of commuters, both train, car and boat, make Dunkies their first stop of every day.  I was one of them for a very long time and still think fondly of my hot cups back then.   Then I began to travel the US, and confound it, I couldn't find DD on my morning commute to a customer site or remote office.  There weren't 75 different stops that I could feasibly make depending on the lines.  I had to resort to *GASP* Starbucks.   

And you know, it was good!  Real good!  I couldn't believe that somebody other than Dunkies could make coffee taste so good.  I was hooked.  Well, try finding a Starbucks in New England 7 years ago.  You would've had better luck finding a Bostonian who pronounced his R's.  I went through withdrawals and couldn't wait to go on my next business trip to find a venti cup of Verona or Gold Coast.  I struggled through my morning rituals until the boys and girls from Seattle finally made a big push into the Northeast and started taking up some real estate.   

Fast forward to the present and I'm being forced again to make a similar choice.  I still love my morning coffee (although I drink the Starbucks at work) and I still prefer my Komodo Dragon over a  regular from DD's but if I want to take my son for a donut, I feel like I have made a conscious decision to "dumb myself down" and go to Dunkies.

The brand wars between the two java giants are taking the wrong approach in my opinion.  Coke vs. Pepsi was one of the great brand wars of all time and made consumers decide on choice.  The brand recognition for both was extremely high and you could argue that both benefitted greatly from the publicity.  Why take the choice to an intelligence or sophistication place?  Can't I have a high degree of culture and still enjoy a hazelnut coffee and jelly donut now and then?  Can't I enjoy a venti cup of bold coffee without being viewed as a stuck up snob?  

Consumers shouldn't be made to feel embarrassed about the coffee choice they make.  They should only be made to feel welcome and satisfied with the hot, steamy cup of caffeinated goodness in front of them.

Where do you go for your java in the morning?  Why?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Is that my Face????Book?

After a security breach opened up personal photos on Facebook, it has left many users questioning the security of online social networking sites. About a month ago, I posted an entry called Social Copycats where I talked about users stealing online profiles. Perhaps this could be a burgeoning form of identity theft.

First I'll steal their professional identities by aping their online profiles and then I'll find additional personal info on Facebook and MySpace. Then, I'll truly become them! There can only be one Derek Tomlinson! (Kudos to the Highlander movie series)

Seriously though, what's next? Are we going to have a bunch of Zeligs stalking around trying to imitate people as their form of making a living? How do you combat this and still stay socially relevant in today's world?

It's almost anti-semantic web to reduce our footprints in the netherspace but we need to have more stringent controls over social information that we are posting out on the web just like we have for our financial information. Currently, it's "Poster Beware" similar to our well-known caveat emptor in commercial situations. I'd like to see one of the big social networking sites come out with more advanced security controls and lead the way in this initiative. Any thoughts?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tough summer job market

For those of my readers that have teenagers, it could be a tight summer market for jobs. According to MSNBC, the economy is really stretching small business owners for labor costs and additional headcount to handle the summer rush. Waiting until the summer to search is not an option and the motto, "the sooner, the better" is very cogent advice.

That being said, there is always another option: start your own business. For teens who have an enterprising streak, starting their own business is perfect preparation for their budding professional lives. Prospective employers will no doubt be impressed with the entrepreneurship, management, sales and marketing skills that go hand-in-hand with a new business.

During high school, myself and two friends had a window-washing business and I can say it was the most profitable and best experience I had during summer work times. I learned a ton, had a great time, managed myself essentially and had a great story to tell during interviews.

If you are further looking to separate yourself from the herd later on during interview sessions at your college, start your own business and make your mark now. Perhaps it will be you that is interviewing for open positions at your company.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How DO you focus today and tomorrow? 5 Options for coping

Well today kicks off the largest productivity drain in American business. More eyeballs will be off of work today than all the collective Solitaire games played combined in a year. The NCAA tourney. I'm in a pool (of my creation) but that's it as I do have a lot of things to get done. However, I know that a large majority of people in my company and others will be tuned in elsewhere.

How do you get your teams to focus today?

What else can be done to keep people away from ESPN every 10 minutes?

I propose a few solutions for nervous business owners:

1) An offsite in the Yukon territory. Not only will your people be disconnected from the games, they'll also be far enough away from civilization that the need to watch college basketball will be far outweighed by the desire for indoor plumbing.

2) All day Firedrills. While not effective to keep people productive, it does reduce the drain on network resources for the executives who want to keep an eye on the streaming video of the games.

3) Unplug the power. Invite your team to "Work like we used to!" and force them to huddle around windows and the emergency lighting to review mimeograph copies of ledger entries.

4) Draconian Network Shutdown. Only allow your employees to send outgoing email, access the internet site, and shut off all telephony. This will enhance productivity and only slightly enrage the resources you hold dear.

5) Lastly, just give in. Face it. Your people are going to find a way to watch the games, manage their brackets, go on extended liquid lunches and completely ignore work for the next two days. As Agent Smith in the Matrix said, "That, is the sound of inevitability."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How many kid photos are too many?

Well, I think I've become one of those people who has too many photos of their kids in the office. You know the people, they have 17 photos throughout the office showing off their kids taken during various family vacations, graduations, etc. I'm just the baby picture guy. Between the great candids of my 2 1/2 year old coupled with the multiple shots of our new baby girl, I've got my office well adorned.

How many is too many for your liking? Where should professionals draw the line? What other pictures are acceptable? How about office toys? What do you have?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A sight for sore eye(s)!

You never really know how involved the internet is with your daily life until you can't access / read / interact with it, do you? Yesterday I was down and out for service with a scratched cornea and I was going through serious info withdrawals! Even today, with my ultra-cool clip-on shades perched on my nose in the office, I can only stay focused on my monitor for limited time which severly limits my time "plugged in".

So, while I was wrenched with angst yesterday trying to get my RSS feeds and news quota filled, I reflected as to how this information age must appear to those without immediate access to information, or the freedom to distribute it like we have, or the ones who can't interact with it. What a bunch of absurd people we must look like to people who don't have food, healthcare, schools, etc.

Has the onslaught of information really made our life better or worse? What can we do to "live in the moment" more? I know that I was much more inclined to spend time smiling and laughing with my 5-month old yesterday and playing on the floor with my 2 1/2 year old since I couldn't see anything beyond 10 feet.

What would you do if you couldn't use the internet for news / information / entertainment anymore but you knew it was there? How would you change for the better / worse? What's the worst / best that could happen?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ideas from Supervillains

Keeping with the theme of my blog, you have to check out this site of 20 Insane Supervillain Schemes. Very well done folks!

Ideas on what to do with your US Dollars

What amazing times we live in today. Information flows like a fast moving river and any potentially impactful news hits our financial markets like a freight train run off the track. I find it particularly discouraging how little faith the American populace has in our economy, will to succeed and good ol' American capitalism in general.

Since our good old greenback is dropping like a rock in the world currency markets, many people are asking me, "What should I do with my money???" I have a few suggestions that might prove constructive:

          1. St. Patrick's Day wrapping paper. It may, in fact, be cheaper than a $5.99 roll of paper to wrap up that pint of Guinness for the ones you love.

          2. Smoke it. Come on, you know you've always wanted to roll up a couple of bills and smoke it just to see what happens. On second thought, with all the residual drugs on the bills, you might OD. Scratch that.

          3. A measuring device. In case you have the need to measure out the exact weight of a gram, the dollar would be a perfect tool to have handy. Otherwise, you could use it to approximate distances on a road map which might actually save you gas money.

          4. For household uses. You could use a dollar in myriad ways around the home. In the bathroom as well, you know, in the kitchen as a pilot light lighter, in the bedroom to throw over the bed instead of expensive rose petals, in the attic shredded for insulation, in the basement as a dryer sheet.

          5. At work. You could actually use this virtually worthless currency to bribe your co-workers to perform work for you. You know the ones I'm talking about, the folks who haven't seen a newspaper in weeks or know what the internet is. They still think we're an economic powerhouse.

          6. At the store. Exchange it for as much non-perishable food as you can before you need their grocery carts to carry it in the store. While you're there you could ask for old coupons since their exchange rate $1/100th is on par with the greenback.

          7. At a casino. This is the time to gamble. Like the old saying, "Play like you've got nothing to lose!"

          8. For your health. According to my Hotmail inbox, there are a ton of Canadian pharmacies that will still sell me male enhancement drugs at $1 per pill.

          9. On i Tunes. You can still get one song per buckeroo.

          10. At the gas station. At a price of under $1000 per tank, gasoline is still a phenomenal steal here in the US compared with Europe.
          I hope some of these will assist you with your quest for fiscal responsibility.

          Thursday, March 13, 2008

          Run and hide investing

          I've had a number of conversations lately with co-workers, friends, etc. about the stock market. Obviously it's been top of mind given the dismal performance we've seen in the last 4 months. It's amazing to me the lack of confidence among professionals that the economy will come back. They are all scaling back investments and going to cash. I understand the need to ensure an emergency fund but cutting back on long-term investments now is the wrong move.

          While I have no real empirical data to offer here, I do remember 2003 being a very strong year after the doldrums of 2000-2002. I personally scored some nice bargains of companies that were beat up and very cheap to own.

          My only idea / advice today is that keep pouring money into your 401k, IRAs, etc. as the dollar cost averaging will catch up and you'll have a much larger investment in the same great companies when the economy upturns.

          Monday, March 10, 2008

          No experience necessary?

          A story this morning on MSNBC talks about the dwindling impact of MBA's and the lack of correlation between the degree and career success. The demise of the MBA has been reported before in many different outlets. However, have you noticed the demand for the advanced degree decreasing? It seems as if you can pick one up on the way to the corner store now as they are available online, at extension colleges, at workplaces, in vending machines, etc.

          Perhaps the issue of declining impact or value in the degree is the proliferation of options available. I would argue that just because you can get a cup of coffee anywhere these days, a good cup is still hard to find. You just have to put in the effort and the rewards from that good cup are quite satisfying. The same could be said for an MBA, just because anyone can get one from Western Virginia Polytechnical Ecumenical College doesn't mean it will carry any weight.

          Due to the increasing proliferation of MBA's minted each year, the statistics will undoubtedly show that the degree is less of a prediction of career success. That said, an MBA from a top school is still a rare commodity and will, with a lot of hard work, luck and networking, provide you with very successful career options.

          You don't need an MBA to be successful and true, having one doesn't guarantee riches, but having one and working your tail off will definitely get you somewhere.

          Go Babson Beavers!

          Friday, March 7, 2008

          Please, someone save my McMansion!

          Now I realize that the housing crisis is much deeper than what I will portray here, but I'm tired of all the folks who bought into the hype five years ago and thought that by paying $1,600/month they could afford a 7ooo sq ft. home just outside a metropolitan area. Now, all of these folks who are having a tough time meeting their monthly mortgage payment (and the Escalade payments as well) are crying foul and looking for relief.

          I can certainly understand helping out people who had good credit but were duped by shady brokers or unscrupulous lenders. I can also understand helping out people who have lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, and need some short term assistance. It is the overspenders and wannabes that spent wildly because they could and nothing was checking them.

          I have a few messages of self responsibility here for such people:

          YOU didn't read the fine print well enough.
          YOU overspent to keep up with the Joneses.
          YOU underestimated the swings that the economy can take.
          YOU didn't budget adequately for house expenses.
          YOU don't deserve help from the government because of carelessness or stupidity.

          Perhaps I'm being harsh but it's time the government says no to all of these bailouts to individuals through bankruptcy, foreclosure assistance, welfare, etc. The more we enable our citizens to make costly mistakes and not pay for them, the more we weaken our country, our economy and our future. It is time to step up and take responsibility for your actions!

          What are your thoughts on this crisis? How would you deal with it other than with a government bailout program?

          Thursday, March 6, 2008

          Yahoo in talks with Yugo to stave off MSFT bid

          Really folks, just get it over with already? How many different suitors are the folks at Yahoo going to drum up in this process? Who's next, Sara Lee or John Deere?

          $31 is a fair price for your company, take it now before it drops lower. In reality, with the recent accelerated decline of the greenback, this deal is worth less today than it was a month ago. What this means Jerry, is that coupled with the time value of money means you can buy fewer Ferraris today than you could last month with the money from this deal.

          I, among millions of others, really don't want to see this thing drag out any longer than it should. Shareholder expense and media hogging aside, this will be a good thing for search and for the internet as a whole. It's time to let the positives start outweighing the negatives.

          Wednesday, March 5, 2008

          Oil at $104! Start raiding the friolators.

          I can't imagine what is going to happen when we hit $200 or $300 a barrel. What the public doesn't realize is that inflation adjusted and currency adjusted, we are paying roughly the same for oil as we were when it was $70/barrel. Why don't we focus more on the value of the dollar instead of the petro markets. If our dollar was stronger, the price would go down, simple enough.

          Tuesday, March 4, 2008

          What's a good capitalist to do today?

          Well, it's no surprise I have Republican leanings given my b-school background and business-centric mentality. I still can't really get behind McCain but I can help to put off the demise of our country from a socialist uprising. Today's primaries are a true watershed moment for the US. If Obama wins Ohio and Texas today, you better open up your checkbooks America. Social spending and tax increases will be just around the corner. I'm not saying that Hillary will be much better but she will at least support corporate America in many more ways than her opponent.

          Sen. Obama is riding a populist wave of support that I haven't seen since, oh, Bill Clinton and should sweep to victory today. I just hope that the people of America don't fall for him for all the wrong reasons. Look at what has happened in economies like France, Canada, England, etc. that have fallen for the worker first mentality. It's not good for business! Just ask GM what it has done for their bottom line.

          Many people subscribe to the pro-worker camp but fail to overlook the main point. If businesses don't make profits, jobs will be cut. So putting undue pressure on labor costs, health care premiums, corporate taxes, etc. all the prosperity that is promised by the Obama campaign will be for naught.

          Let's hope that common "cents" saves the day today.

          Monday, March 3, 2008

          Landing a job in tough times

          Today's MSNBC site has an article about how to get a leg up in today's job market. Given that a colleague of mine was recently let go and doesn't really understand the social networking world, I thought I'd give some tips for would-be job seekers. Here are 10 solid helpful hints for folks looking for their next opportunity.

          1) Update your resume and then have it looked at by professional resume writer. This might seem costly at first but it is the best $500-$1000 you'll spend. These folks understand what hiring managers are looking for and will provide you with multiple versions of your resume based on the jobs you are looking for.

          2) Get your profile up on Linked In! What are you waiting for? There are 19M other users out there on this site and it gives you the unique ability to get references for your past work and pass those along to recruiters who live on this site. This was one of my primary tools during my last job search and I was able to leverage my network to interface directly with my ultimate manager prior to the interview.

          3) Clean up your MySpace and Facebook sites. Some of you have avoided temptation to be "friended" or post up your intimate details on these sites but those of you that have put your affinity for 80's glam bands and hot pink hair streaks should really clean it up a bit.

          4) Create a 30 second sound bite for what your ideal job is. If you can't articulate it, why would anyone want to hire you? In today's fast paced, info economy, you need to say it fast, loud and clear. I would also send this to your network contacts so they can clearly describe what you're looking for to their contacts.

          5) What is your personal elevator pitch? A two-minute spiel on your background, experience and history will show that you are prepared, knowledgeable and concise to any potential contacts or hiring managers.

          6) Network, network, network. You can never know enough people. You never know what the person next to you on a plane, at Starbucks, in line at Target or at the playground could help with. But the ultimate rule for all networking is that you should be the first to offer assistance and your network karma will come back to you.

          7) Be very careful with videos. You may think that you come across really smart looking and polished but let's face it, you're not on TV for a reason. Think twice, and three times, before sending a video to a company.

          8) Research. If you don't know what the company does, how on earth would you know that you'd like to work there? Do your homework dammit. Nothing is worse than an interview candidate showing up and not knowing a thing about what my company does.

          9) Did I mention networking?

          10) Get a new suit. Clean yourself up and get some new interview clothes. They will not only help you feel better about yourself but they will show that you take pride in your appearance and that you are a professional. And guys, don't be afraid to go get a manicure, sans polish, before you show up. The military knows what's up with the spit and polish thing.

          I hope these things help those of you that might find yourself in the lurch. I've got a lot more so if you're interested, drop me a line and I'll assist. Also, if you want to Link In, hit my contact button on the right.