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Speed

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Within GE, she says, “our traditional teams are too slow. We’re not innovating fast enough. We need to systematize change.” Comstock connected me with Susan Peters, who oversees GE’s executive-development effort. “The pace of change is pretty amazing,” Peters says. “There’s a need to be less hierarchical and to rely more on teams. This has all increased dramatically in the last couple of years.

From This Is Generation Flux: Meet The Pioneers Of The New (And Chaotic) Frontier Of Business | Fast Company

Written by Cory Barbot

January 28, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Business

Link Love

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Greetings Passersbys (is that the appropriate term?),

A couple of links – and a slice of their pie to entice you to click through – I just came across that are good brain turners:

Thoughts on Economics: Phenomenology

The techniques of physics hardly ever produce more than the most approximate truth in finance because ‘true’ financial value is itself a suspect notion. In physics, a model is right when it correctly predicts the future trajectories of planets or the existence and properties of new particles, such as Gell-Mann’s Omega Minus. In finance, you cannot easily prove a model right by such observation. Data are scarce and, more importantly, markets are arenas of action and reaction, dialectics of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. People learn from past mistakes and go on to make new ones. What’s right in one regime is wrong in the next.

Active Listening

When I was doing a lot of travel for book tours and speaking, I spent many hours with cab and limo drivers. I discovered two questions that would almost always lead to something interesting:

  1. Where did you grow up?
  2. Have you driven anyone famous?

Error Message: Google Research Director Peter Norvig on Being Wrong

What do you think have been Google’s biggest mistakes?

I can’t speak for the whole company, but I guess not embracing the social aspects. Facebook came along and has been very successful, and I may have dismissed that early on. There was this initial feeling of, “Well, this is about real, valid information, and Facebook is more about celebrity gossip or something.” I think I missed the fact that there is real importance to having a social network and getting these recommendations from friends. I might have been too focused on getting the facts and figures—to answer a query such as “What digital camera should I buy?” with the best reviews and facts, when some people might prefer to know “Oh, my friend Sally got that one; I’ll just get the same thing.” Maybe something isn’t the right answer just because your friends like it, but there is something useful there, and that’s a factor we have to weigh in along with the others.

Written by Cory Barbot

August 7, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Ten Principles for a Black Swan-Robust Society

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From the postscript to The Black Swan:

  1. What is fragile should break early while it’s still small: Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks become the biggest.
  2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains: Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bailout should be free, small and risk-bearing. We got ourselves into the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France, in the 1980s, the Socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.
  3. People who drove a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus: The economics establishment lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system in 2008. Find the smart people whose hands are clean to get us out of this mess.
  4. Don’t let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks: Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show “profits” from these savings while claiming to be “conservative”. Bonuses don’t accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives.
  5. Compensate complexity with simplicity: Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. Complex systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy, not debt and optimisation.
  6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning label: Complex financial products need to be banned because nobody understands them, and few are rational enough to know it. We need to protect citizens from themselves, from bankers selling them “hedging” products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.
  7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence: Governments should never need to “restore confidence”. Cascading rumours are a product of complex systems. Governments cannot stop the rumours. We just need to be able to shrug off rumours, to be robust to them. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains: Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homoeopathy, it’s denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it’s a structural one. We need rehab.
  8. Citizens should not depend on financial assets as a repository of value and rely on fallible “expert” advice for their retirement: Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as warehouses of value.
  9. Make an omelette with the broken eggs: The crisis of 2008 was not a problem to fix with makeshift repairs. We will have to remake the system before it does so itself. Let us move voluntarily into a robust economy by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties. Then we will see an economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller firms and no leverage – a world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks, and in which companies are born and die every day without making the news.

Written by Cory Barbot

July 19, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Hire the Better Writer

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I recently picked up a new book called Rework based on a blog post recommendation by a friend of mine.  Or, it might have been a tweet.  Who knows these days, right?  Right.

Seth Godin is quoted on the cover – “Ignore this book at your own peril.”  From what I’ve read so far, this isn’t surprising.  The chapters are anything but chapters.  They’re short, crisp ideas lacking any sort of fluff.  Straight to the point.  Wisdom in scarcity.  Finality of tone.  Extended proverbs?

There is a chapter entitled, “Hire the Better Writer,” that made me raise up and say, “Yes! I agree!”  If two candidates are equally qualified, then I choose based on the better writer.  I’ve heard many people say, “Cover letters are a waste of time,” but I entirely disagree.  You can fake a resume.  You can load it up with all of those action verbs and business buzzwords.  That’s easy.  But you can’t get around being a poor communicator in a cover letter and, as the chapter states, clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.  Basically, good writing shows good, structured thinking

Hire Great Writers

If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer.  It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer or whatever; their writing skills will pay off.

That’s because being a good writer is about more than just writing.  Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.  Great writers know how to communicate.  They make things easy to understand.  They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes.  They know what to omit.  And those are qualities you want in any candidate.

Writing is making a comeback all over our society.  Look at how much people e-mail and text message now rather than talk on the phone.  Look at how much communication happens via instant messaging and blogging.  Writing is today’s currency for good ideas.

Good writing and clear thinking is needed in a field like search.  Everyone plays within the same rules set.  We all play in the same sandbox.  The difference in quality from one company to the next is in the emphasis of the different facets of on-site and off-site SEO, for example, and the creation and application of unique ideas.  It’s knowing what to omit from a report in order to make your successes easier to understand.

One last note on writing and jobs involving the internet.  If you’re applying for a job that involves the internet, it would behoove you to create a WordPress, Blogspot, Tumblr, Typepad or et cetera blog with your name in the URL.  That way, when you’re Googled the blog pops up and allows the employer to get a better idea of how you think, what you think about, what you think about the things related to your potential job and who you are as a person.

Written by Cory Barbot

May 18, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Making Ideas Happen

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Image by Eduardo!

Ideas and no follow through.  It’s a constant in business and in life outside of work.  How do you create an environment that is not only conducive to idea generation but idea instantiation? I think number one is the most important of the five tips for making ideas happen – “Avoid a Reactionary Workflow” – particularly because it’s often a form of number four – insecurity work.

I’ve made a point to log into to AIM (or Pidgin in my case) only a few times throughout the day, usually no more than 3 or 4 times.  In total, it works out that I’m “online” for only 45 minutes or so.  That gives people the opportunity to hit me with quick messages that can be answered immediately.  Otherwise, if it’s that important, I’ll see their beautiful smiling faces peek into the office.  Likewise, if I need something done and it involves another department then it’s a great opportunity to get up and walk over to their desk.  That’s the best way to move ideas into reality – good old fashioned face-to-face conversations.

Also, I set aside time to simply read during the week: industry blogs, articles, websites, the lot of it.  Just read.  That’s my sweet spot of creativity and where getting those big projects done actually happens (read, analyze, incorporate, brain dump, organize).  And if I’m feeling extra saucy, I’ll even shut down Outlook.  What do you do to get ideas from generation to instantiation?

Creative types have a problem.  We have so many great ideas, but most of them never see the light of day.  Why do most ideas never happen? The reason is that our own creative habits get in the way.  For example, our tendency to generate new ideas often gets in the way of executing the ones we have.  As a result, we abandon many projects halfway through.

Written by Cory Barbot

May 2, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Business, Creativity

Shop Class as Soulcraft and SEO

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Just finished eating a delicious scallop and cabbage and capers dinner topped off with a little bit of reading – Shop Class as Soulcraft.  I’m about 1/3 through the book and it’s turned out to be the book I wanted The Management Myth to be, philosophy infused proceedings on the nature of our work (knowledge work, specifically).  I came across a passage that made me think of SEO.  It reminds me of the conversations floating around the industry from  season to season about whether or not SEO is a science.  I’ll quote it at length:

But there is another class of arts that Aristotle calls “stochastic.”  An example is medicine.  Mastery of a stochastic art is compatible with failure to achieve its end (health).  As Aristotle writes, “It does not belong to medicine to produce health, but only to promote it as much as is possible…”  Fixing things, whether cars or human bodies, is very different from building things from scratch.  The mechanic and the doctor deal with failure every day, even if they are not of their own making, and are therefore never known in a comprehensive or absolute way.

Like building houses, mathematics is constructive, every element is fully within one’s view, and subject to deliberate placement.  In a sense, then, a mathematical representation of the world renders the world as something of our own making.  Substituting mathematical strings for shoelaces entails a bit of self-absorption, and skepticism, too: the world is interesting and intelligible insofar as we can reproduce it in ideal form, as a projection from our selves.  By contrast, in diagnosing and fixing things made by others (this other may be Volkswagen, God, or Natural Selection), one is confronted with obscurities, and must remain constantly open to the signs by which they reveal themselves.  This openness is incompatible with self-absorption; to maintain it we have to fight our tendency to get anchored in snap judgments.  This is easier said than done.

Because the stochastic arts diagnose and fix things that are variable, complex, and not of our own making, and therefore not fully knowable, they require a certain disposition toward the thing your are trying to fix.  This disposition is at once cognitive and moral.  Getting it right demands that you be attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration.  I believe the mechanical arts have a special significance for out time because they cultivate not creativity, but the less glamorous virtue of attentiveness.  Things need fixing and tending no less than creating.

So why did this make me think of SEO?  Because it’s stochastic.

SEOs often fail to achieve their ends, the ideal – ranking in the first position for all major keywords.  SEOs do not produce rankings in the strictest sense; they perform their form of the art to promote first page rankings.

We cannot and never will know the search algorithms in a comprehensive or absolute way (I don’t even think those that have unleashed this ever evolving beast know!).

There is a certain disposition required in what you do as an SEO, particularly when you first start out.  Any bit of tumultuousness is accompanied by internal moral panic.  I remember when I first received my clients; it went from reading lots of blogs and knowing it theoretically to “Oh crap,  I have to put these thoughts into practice…and make them money!”  This is one of the effects of being a knowledge worker, I think.  There is a peculiar kind of detachment that is at once alienating and exhilarating.

SEO epitomizes the scientific disposition – A happened; why did A happen?; test out variables X, Y and Z to find out if they caused A.  That doesn’t make it a science.  Science requires falsifiability and an ability to provides steps to the next person who comes along that will provide the same result, consistently.  Put another, if SEO was a science there would be no SEO; it would be a commodity.

You can demand that oil act as it should and it will turn into gasoline with the right pushing, prodding and pulling.  You cannot demand that all websites react exactly the same to your methodology.  You certainly have your best practices, but the differentiation, and proof of your skill, comes in emphasis – on-site, off-site, consistency, patience, education.

Fortunately for the SEO, attentiveness to the consistently changing search landscape necessitates creativity in uncovering solutions.

Written by Cory Barbot

February 22, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Being Direct and Succinct is Prized…

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…in the business world.  There are those who are able to cut through the thicket of thesaurus words growing from the mouths of others and provide a single sentence that captures the entirety of the idea and instigates action. And why not?  Meetings are so often derailed by attendees veering off into topics that do not speak to the issue; a finely expressed goal keeps a project on target; time is money; time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana; and so on…  The ironic thing is that management is usually conducted in -isms, -tions and -ents; vague words that are stultifying.  So what to do?  Lead the way and speak in Anglo-Saxon, not Latin.  From an article on The American Scholar website:

First, a little history. The English language is derived from two main sources. One is Latin, the florid language of ancient Rome. The other is Anglo-Saxon, the plain languages of England and northern Europe. The words derived from Latin are the enemy—they will strangle and suffocate everything you write. The Anglo-Saxon words will set you free.

How do those Latin words do their strangling and suffocating? In general they are long, pompous nouns that end in -ion—like implementation and maximization and communication (five syllables long!)—or that end in -ent—like development and fulfillment. Those nouns express a vague concept or an abstract idea, not a specific action that we can picture—somebody doing something. Here’s a typical sentence: “Prior to the implementation of the financial enhancement.” That means “Before we fixed our money problems.”

Believe it or not, this is the language that people in authority in America routinely use—officials in government and business and education and social work and health care. They think those long Latin words make them sound important. It no longer rains in America; your TV weatherman will tell that you we’re experiencing a precipitation probability situation.

Written by Cory Barbot

January 17, 2010 at 2:23 pm

The Management Myth

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the philosopher in meditation rembrandt

One of my favorite posters at a message board I’ve frequented since 2000 added a link on management to the business forum.  It covers a topic I’d like to see fully covered in a book and might have a title like: Drucker and Hume walk into a Starbucks: Management Explained through Philosophy.  The fellow who wrote the article, Michael Stewart, also wrote a book called The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza and the Fate of God in the Modern World (the title is a mouthful, but the actual writing and content isn’t as pompous as the title sounds) which is a solid read.  Here is an excerpt of the article entitled The Management Myth:

Beyond building skills, business training must be about values. As I write this, I know that my M.B.A. friends are squirming in their seats. They’ve all been forced to sit through an “ethics” course, in which they learned to toss around yet more fancy phrases like “the categorical imperative” and discuss borderline criminal behavior, such as what’s a legitimate hotel bill and what’s just plain stealing from the expense account, how to tell the difference between a pat on the shoulder and sexual harassment, and so on. But, as anyone who has studied Aristotle will know, “values” aren’t something you bump into from time to time during the course of a business career. All of business is about values, all of the time. Notwithstanding the ostentatious use of stopwatches, Taylor’s pig iron case was not a description of some aspect of physical reality—how many tons can a worker lift? It was a prescription—how many tons should a worker lift? The real issue at stake in Mayo’s telephone factory was notfactual—how can we best establish a sense of teamwork? It was moral—how much of a worker’s sense of identity and well-being does a business have a right to harness for its purposes?

Written by Cory Barbot

December 13, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Peter Drucker on What Businesses Can Learn from Non-Profits

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Synopsis of an article, of the same title, written by Peter Drucker in the Harvard Business Review (1989).  Point F is incredibly poignant considering the growth of search (write for your customers, optimize your site in their language so that it is found and ranks well) and social media.

a. In two areas, nonprofits practice what businesses preach: strategy and the effectiveness of the board

b. In the most crucial area, the motivation and productivity of knowledge workers, they are pioneers

c. Management is vital to nonprofits as they are not motivated by the “bottom line.” This serves as both a blessing and something of a curse. Good intentions still require organization and leadership, for accountability, performance and results. Training ground for future managers

d. Non-profits are more money conscious than business. There is never enough money. Employees are business savvy with regard to effective saving and spending

e. Non-profits do no base their strategy on money or make it the center of their plans. First and foremost is the mission. This involves looking outside the non-profit and focuses the organization on action. It defines specific goals, how they will be attained and, consequently, a disciplined organization.

f. Remaining mission focused with an eye towards the world outside the organization, non-profits are always seeking and listening to the “customer” to be. It is, after all, what the customer wants – and even more so in the internet age.

g. A clearly defined mission facilities and encourages innovation

h. Emphasis on training, training, training of new volunteers means the organization must make use of the current volunteers expertise. Training is absolutely necessary. Knowledge workers demand responsibility – above all, for thinking through and setting their own performance goals. They expect to be consulted and participate in the decisions that affect their work and the work of the organization as a whole. In addition, opportunity for advancement is a requirement so long as their performance warrants such responsibility.

i. Non-profit workers expect their work to be evaluated against pre-set objectives. They expect those workers who do not make the grade to be moved to a different position that takes advantage of their skillset or even encouraged to leave.

j. The move from volunteer to unpaid professional “may be the most important development in society today.”

k. Finish with a quote,”This development also carries a clear lesson for businesses. Managing the knowledge worker for productivity is the challenge ahead for American management. It requires a clear mission, careful placement and continuous learning and teaching, management by objectives and self-control, high demands but corresponding responsibility, and accountability for performance and results. There is also a clear warning to American business…The students in the program for senior and mid-level executives…most of them also serve as volunteers in nonprofits…When I ask them why they do it, far too many give the same answer: Because in my job there isn’t much challenge, not enough achievement, not enough responsibility; and there is no mission, only expediency.”

Written by Cory Barbot

October 16, 2009 at 4:58 pm

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