Sunday, November 23, 2014

More Xavier Austen Pictures




Xavier and I did Google hangouts yesterday.  He is a person of few words.  It means anything he does say has a lot of weight.


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I like the long time (like 20+year) bike law in Idaho that allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs.  Lets get that through in Guelph/Ontario.  Good video on it here.

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On Procrastination:

“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”  Jerome K. Jerome

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Xavier Charles Estill Austen

I am once again a proud grandfather.  

Mother Laura and baby are both doing well and healthy.

Xavier Austen. 5 lbs 15 oz, 19.5 inches, born 19 November 2014 at 1:46 pm.  He arrived about a month early.  He already is trying to be punctual - a skill that will serve him well in life.


I am not sure what is with the toque - he lives in Texas and they have no snow.  Perhaps he is just trying to make a fashion statement.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Statistical Success Yes - But Long Term Measurements are Tougher

The advent of the internet and internet advertising seemed to push a move towards measuring direct results.  Spend $1000 on ads and see if it yields $1000 in results.    Statistically experiment with small tests to see if it pays more to advertise with this catch phrase or that, with green or blue, in the morning or night etc.

I am a big believer in split run testing.  Try multiple experiments to see what works best.  Test on small samples before spending money on larger ones.

Measure everything to figure out the repeatable system that yields success.

This same measurement and documentation is what Michael Gerber pushes in his classic book series E-Myth.  He proposes that all businesses should McDonaldcize themselves.  Have detailed process manuals so anyone can do the job.  And work continually on figuring out how to make the process better.  He advocates that the entrepreneur should work ON the business - not IN the business.

I have been doing some Growth Coaching with some medium sized companies.  I have been promoting that for those who are about to hire a sales force.  Figure out a model and repeat it.  Most of them already use that for their internet marketing so it is surprising that they would find it new to do this in growing a sales team.

Formulas work.

And that could be the end of the story but it is not.  The problem with many long-term challenges are the outcomes do not happen fast enough to know exactly what works and what does not.  This is where entrepreneurial intuition comes in.  We never really know what will work but we have to choose intuitively to do them.



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I read there may be a chocolate shortage.  Apparently we may be hitting peak chocolate - the point where demand outstrips supply.  For some, I am sure that crisis is more important than peak oil even.

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People have a very narrow "comfort range".  We artificially extend that with heat, air conditioners and various clothing.   We also seem to "complain" about it which solves nothing.

I actually think the current touch of snow is gorgeous.




Thursday, October 02, 2014

Efficiency vs Health

I have to admit to being a bit of a Fitbit addict.  Fitbit tracks steps and it has a social media component that allows people I am "connected" to see how many steps I do and I can see what they do.  And my kids and brothers all have them.  Not that I am competitive at all but Lyle particularly pushes me a bit since I do not want him to have more steps than I do.

So how does this relate to efficiency which is really the theme of this blog?  For perfect efficiency, I should set my life up to take less steps.  I should have all my files at my desk and everything I need should be in reach.  But to get more steps, it is best to have to go to the basement to file things and get up to get things.  I find the steps I get for just doing "normal" stuff as opposed to "working out" are fairly easy.  So building a life with "fairly easy" built in seems logical.

Or a more blatant example.  I could drive my car to a meeting or walk.  Walking might take 15 minutes longer so is less efficient.  And the same is true of automation and hiring things done (EG - mowing the grass or manually emptying the dehumidifier rather than piping it direct to the drain)

So I am conflicted since I am an efficiency and a health person.  Which do I choose.

So... moving the file cabinet to the basement...furthest from my desk I can get it.

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Speaking of health, I always thought it was more fiscally prudent to own a car rather than lease it.  But recent research links car ownership with poor health.

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By the way, in case you have not seen this yet, have a look at the blog post put out by Hootsuite when they launched the controlled BETA trials.
 http://blog.hootsuite.com/new-hootsuite-feature-content-suggestion/

Content curation and moderation is one of the next waves that will automate.  It has been going on for years (we let the editors choose what they think is important).  Soon, machines will be assisting in this task.

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One of my friends owns a multihundred million dollar company that sells hardwood.  I needed some hardwood flooring so bought it from him.

He was teasing that his margins were down this month because of the order he sold to me to which I replied "if you think your margins are bad this month, next month it will be your bad debts you have to worry about."

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Spam takes time but not as much as it seems.  I can log in and see 100 emails waiting but if they are all spam, that is about a minute to deal with them.  Now if I have to act on them, it can be a couple of hours.

That said, I do think the new Canadian Spam law might help reduce the number of unwanted emails.  Of course half my business interests are in the US and it will not help those.

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And my son who works selling wind turbines at Siemens thought it was only fair if I put pictures of my other kids children on my blog I should include his.



Saturday, September 20, 2014

Article Clipping at its Best

My mother is an article clipper.  When I stop by, she often has articles she clipped from a newspaper or magazine for me.  And she does this for everyone else in her life.

I realize I have become the same way.  The difference is most of what I read is online so I clip URLs and email them to people that I think might be interested in an article.  And many of the articles I email were emailed to me - so I am just passing them on.

She clipped an article/book report that combined a review on 2 books - The Organized Mind - Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel Levin and The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in the World of Constant Connections by Michael Harris.

"In 2011, Americans (and I assume Canadians) took in 5 times as much information as they did in 1986."

As the titles suggest, information and connectivity are a problem and we need strategies to cope.  I know this first hand.  When I was in "CEO mode", I was fast and responsive.  Lately I have noticed I am less so.  Thinking I can use some of the strategies suggested in these books.  More for my reading list.

Silence can be empowering.

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Some interesting tidbits:

CEO's who run marathons are better CEO's.  This seems intuitive in the discipline needed to run a marathon.  Good CEO's are goal driven and a marathon is often a goal.  I also know it requires a high level of fitness to lead an executive life.  Where it is counter intuitive is real marathon training takes a lot of time.  It would be tough to properly train in even 6-7 hours per week.  Marathons are beyond fitness (I say this - yet I have run 6 of them).

I like the Goldman Sachs article on the internet of things.  I am taken back to my early days in business when we sold a lot of analogue to digital boards (well a lot relative to being a small company).  Those are the basis of most of the internet of things - they allow sensors to be read (temperature, pressure, etc.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Growing Ice Cream

From an email exchange with a friend on what makes successful entrepreneurs:

listen - filter - learn - lead

Not blind obedience.

Work ethic - time management - energy - passion.

And the appropriate mix of dreams and reality, focus and trying different things.

Statistical experimentation.

Learning is the big one.
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I thought this simple article on 5 things to do before bed to jump start your day was good.

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And for those who thought they were too old to start a venture.

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And always thinking of Venture Returns.

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I was speaking with my grandson, Josh while we were eating dinner:

Josh:  Grandpa - do you like zucchini?

Me: Of course - it is great.

Josh while squeezing the zucchini from his plate in his hand: you can have mine

And later we were talking about my garden, planting seeds, harvesting etc:

Me:  I grow zucchini, lettuce, beets, beans and lots of herbs in my garden.  Are you going to have a garden when you grow up?

Josh:  Yes

Me: What are you going to grow?

Josh:  Ice Cream


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

No Substitute for Time in - But Perfect Time in

I love the early mornings.  So many things I love to do in these hours.  Cannot say I am a great fan of the darkness at 6 AM now though.

One of my favourite thought leaders and authors, Malcolm Gladwell,  studied what made people experts in their field.   Through his studies, he found that people who put more time in became more proficient and more expert.  His magic number was 10,000 hours makes a person expert.  Want to become a piano master?  Practice for 10,000 hours.  Want to become a great artist? Practice for 10,000 hours.

I took karate for about a decade.  My karate instructor said "perfect practice makes perfect - practice alone does not".  There is validity in that - spending the time practicing wrong just makes you perfect at doing things wrong.

I also know this from playing internet chess mindlessly.  I can put the hours in but get no better.  To improve requires focus, study and perfect practice.

I know there is no substitute for time in.  I have an organic vegetable garden.  If I spend time, it has few weeds and few pests.  Interestingly, in this case, mindless puttering gets the job done - no perfection required.

But it is not all about time - it is about energy.  I know when I am high energy (like early mornings), I have the focus to do "perfect".  When I am tired, I tend to do mindless.  So from an efficiency view - anything I can do to increase the amount of energy or high energy hours, the more effective I will be.  And if I spend my high energy hours on high perfection task, I will accomplish more.

And the puttering time can still add value to the things that can be accomplished with puttering.

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A good friend of mine's daughter did her movie debut in a Jennifer Anniston movie  - Life of Crime.  I am looking forward to watching it.

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And a quote for the day:

Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don't have time for all that.

George Carlin

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I am thinking I need to do a songbook.  Just like IBM did in 1937.  Check it out.

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To provoke thought, there is a good article in the Atlantic on the new editors of the internet.

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The grandkids - Victoria and Josh.  Puttering or perfect practice?  Or perhaps just enjoying being.



Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Leading Surveys and the Power of Asking the Right Questions

When we ask questions - we get answers.

This is why I like the How question.  Often when you ask why - you come up with reasons and excuses for why something happens or is not happening.  Why are sales down this year?  Competition is higher and we lost XYZ account.  And of course the exchange rate.

I think of things we cannot change as "conditions".  My exCOO used that all the time.  Conditions are simply things which are.  And anything that needs to be done needs doing "in spite of the condition".

But ask the How question.  How can we increase sales.  We can market more, we can sell other products, we can approach ABC customer etc.  How questions inspire action.

Good leading questions get even better answers - eg being highly specific.  How can we increase sales by 12% by December?

This is why my modification of the 5 Why's is to add the How.

So how can this be used in surveys?

Ask - what are the 3 things you like about us?  Do you buy from us because our prices are competitive or because our service is great?  Do you mostly buy from us because we sell ABC product or XYZ product?  (so the customer says "I did not know you sold XYZ).  As a customer, what is most important to you about us - that we sell more ABC than all other companies combined or because we ship faster than other companies?

The more customers say good things about you - even in a survey, the better they think of you.

Don't ask what is wrong with us?  (that will always come out - especially if you have a section for "any other comments")

Surveys can be a great marketing tool and can help reinforce things in your customers' or prospects' mind.  They can also educate your customer.

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Texting and driving.  Good video to share with all.  Watch it through to the point where they show how long 5 seconds is.

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And Victoria taking me for a walk.




Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Goal - Reducing Stuff Quotient

I recently moved from a large home in Long Island to large home in Guelph - but a home that is half the size.    So now, everything is a mess with too much stuff.  So I am committed to a negative Stuff Quotient.  I commit to get rid of more stuff than I bring into the house every day.  And to add to it, I would like to get rid of one more thing per day - this will add up to 1000 less things in 3 years which might put the house into an equilibrium.

Stuff has a great cost - the worst of which is stress - usually caused by time.  Stuff takes time.  Time spent on stuff can far outweigh the value of the stuff.

Storage costs.  Many people spend thousands of dollars storing hundreds of dollars of stuff.

Stuff has no value if it cannot be found easily.   And storing it a retrieving it takes time.  Good organization systems help of course but there is a time factor to set those up.

And most Stuff degrades or has obsolescence as it is stored.  EG - I just threw out an awesome maglight because the batteries had corroded.  And then in looking at flashlights, I realize it was obsolete anyways.  New ones are LED - better light and longer life.

Part of what makes it difficult to get rid of stuff is frugality.  I hate waste.  To help this feeling, I give things to friends (is this mean?), or goodwill/Salvation Army.  But some things just need to be tossed.

Stuff can be security but it can also be stress.

Consider making the Negative Stuff Quotient Pledge.

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I thought this was a very interesting KPMG report on the tax efficiency of various jurisdictions.  Canada and Ontario rank very well.  Especially for tech companies using SRED credits.  See report.

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A friend emailed me an online miniseries his brother is directing.  The phenomenon of anyone being able to be a producer/director is interesting.  This is just like blogging allows anyone to own a publisher.  Media empires have been broken.

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And a plug for one of my investee companies:

LaunchSpot is a solution that:
1. Enables people in your organization to save time by making it really easy to find expertise wherever it is across your company’s network - in both critical situations and in normal daily work.
2. Enables your people to setup a profile in seconds because we use existing information to pre-populate profiles.  The on-boarding process is very simple and fast.
3. Helps you gain insight into your organization (skills breakdown across the organization, etc.)
4. Enables you to integrate with other systems via our API.

Why:
Information is available now more than ever but information is only useful when applied with the needs of your current context.  A google search alone can not provide that context but the people in your organization with expertise can.  We believe that information alone does not contain the answers, people do and to that end we make it easier for your people to find the expertise in your organization.

ROI:
The average knowledge worker spends 20% of their time looking for answers to do their jobs. Help each of your people turn those hours into minutes.

http://LaunchSpot.io

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

99% of Marketing Spending is Wasted

John Wannamaker is credited with saying "50% of the advertising spending is wasted - the problem is I do not know which half".  But he was wrong.  99% or even more of the advertising $ that are spent are wasted but the 1% more than pays for the advertising.

The Atlantic printed an article that basically says internet advertising does not work.  See the article here.  They used examples of people searching for a product who already had decided what to buy.  I agree, this is a high % of the people.  What they did not use as examples of people who had non-buying intent but were good targets.

For example, if I type buy Nike shoes - I have likely decided to buy Nike's.  If I Google good running shoes, I am open to suggestions.  Or if I Google 10K races, I am also likely a buyer.  And advertisers use retargeting so I may get a running shoe ad the next day when I am searching something completely different.

I wrote an article a while ago on "The Fallacy of ROI on Marketing" and reused the concept in my book "Zero to $2 Billion - The Marketing and Branding Story Behind the Growth".  The gist of it is - consumers buy for a variety of reasons.  It might be because they saw the billboard or the truck or the Superbowl ad or the internet ad.  It is rarely just one impression - it is the "accumulation" effect.

Marketing success really is about math but you never know some of the variables.  In its simplest.  Spend $1,000 that is viewed (or presented) to 1,000 people and get 100 leads that turn into 3 buyers that generate $500 in margin each and you have a profitable business that can scale.   In this example, only 3 people in the 1,000 bought so it could be argued that 99.7% of the advertising spend was wasted.

Marketing is a bit like sales as far as success rates goes.   Great sales people have abysmal closing rates.  Many sales people can make good money for themselves and their companies by only closing 1 in 10 or 1 in 15 prospects.  It is about numbers.

And speaking of advertising, there is an interesting blog post on deception in advertising that has a cute infographic (now you see why I try to avoid fast food)

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There is another interesting article in the Atlantic that says that people lie about what they read.  They do not really want hard news.  What they really watch is sports and entertainment.  I can sort of see this.  People want to be thought of as being thoughtful and informed and would not want everyone to know they follow more shallow topics mostly.

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And in keeping with the Time Management theme.  This is an article on 40 ways to stop procrastinating.   I am concerned that posting the link will reduce my blog readership though.

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And a shout out for one of my investments that made Profit Magazines fastest growing companies (#54) - Iotum (they do freeconference.com)


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Simplicity

“Simplicity is prerequisite for reliability.”

Edsger W. Dijkstra  

He wrote an all time classic book on programming called "A Discipline of Programming".

I have not done much programming for a long time but most of the same principles apply today as applied when Dijkstra wrote his book.  In his book he emphasizes common sense.

Programming is one area that complexity kills.  The greater the complexity, the greater the chance of error, the more difficulty to make changes and the less scalable things become.

The biggest mistake most companies and programmers make that I see is programming before planning.  I have a huge sense of urgency and want to get things done.  But in product development, it is best to plan more and better and program less.

I also see a failure of many companies to sell.  Many tech start ups are lead by founders who are strong on tech and product management but lack sales interest.  Nothing like sales to real customers to keep a product relevant.

I can see some of the programming principles can apply to my life organization.  Simplify to live easier.

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I saw an interesting TED talk on athletic performance.  People are not getting faster and stronger but technology is improving.

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And my new favorite website for marketing and startup tips is growthhackers.com.




Thursday, June 05, 2014

Accomplishment Guilt

I suffer from accomplishment guilt - or perhaps better said - lack of accomplishment guilt.  I feel bad if I do not get enough done.  Some of this is good - it can drive great things.  It helps my self discipline.  It helps my productivity and efficiency since I know I need to be efficient to accomplish things.

Part of it is bad - it can lead to feeling unsettled and stressed.

One of my favourite sayings is "people tend to over estimate what they can accomplish in a day and underestimate what they can accomplish in a decade".  I have seen this to be true.

One way to be more zen or at peace is to list your blessing.  And list what has been accomplished (as opposed to listing what has not been which I often seem to do.

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For serious stats driven chess geeks - I found this article interesting.

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One of the Canrock investments - Pumpup seems to be getting great traction.  Their tweet:

PumpUp passes 1M users and introduces health & fitness social network. Join the community and download @PumpUp today! http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/21/pumpup-exits-beta/

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One of the things I love about Canada is the weather.  I took this today driving to the Calgary airport from Canmore.  Yes - that is snow.  And the northern latitude means it is light late and early.  This was taken about 5:30 AM.




Monday, June 02, 2014

With Love and Quiches

I read an awesome and inspirational book by Susan Axelrod - With Love and Quiches - A Long Island Housewife's Surprising Journey from Kitchen to Boardroom.  

Susan calls herself and "accidental success".  She simply had some time on her hands and started reading recipe books and gourmet magazine.  And she cooked and baked.  And she shared some of what she made with friends who complimented her.  So she baked some more.

She joined a gourmet cooking club.   She started to teach some cooking as a volunteer and then paid.

The book starts with her childhood and works all through her life from there.  It tells of her marriage.  Where she lived and the life she lead.

She had a friend, Jill, who she talked to and they decided "lets start a food business".  So they did.  They started making quiches and quickly moved to desserts like cheesecake.  Her company name - Love and Quiches.

Part of what makes the book interesting are the many of the stories tell of early selling  and baking catastrophes.  The naivety that made for interesting times.  The huge order she got then trying to fill the order.

Susan is obviously a determined sales person.  She would successfully call on restaurants and pedal her wares.  And she also started selling to airlines.

All was going well and business was growing bit by bit.  Then 9/11.  People stopped eating out.  Airlines did not fly.  Economic hard times hit and most of what she sold was "optional".  So the business almost went bankrupt.  It tells of her fighting through that and re-establishing and growing again.  Exciting.

I am always inspired by people who build great businesses from scratch.  I am doubly inspired that Susan built her business in a time when few other women were doing this.   I like stories of success against odds.

The book reminded me that business plans are good but often just listening to customers also works.

I know Susan and have toured her company and heard her speak.  She is modest and even slightly shy about her success.  For example, when I was moderating a panel at a Golden Seeds event, I asked her in front of the audience if she could share some statistics like "how much flour do you buy or how many cheesecakes do you make".  Her response was "we are a private company and do not share our details".  I thought the audience would have liked to know she buys by the train car and stores it in silos etc.

Great read.  Exciting, entertaining and inspirational.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Things to Memorize - Memory Saves Time

I recently visited my brother.  As we were reminiscing, we started talking about all the phone numbers we used to know.  We recited numbers of customers and suppliers we had dealt with in the 1980's.  I likely knew 50 or even 100 phone numbers.  And the same number of part numbers, prices etc.

Now with electronic address books, I barely know my own number.

We did not deliberately memorize numbers but knowing them created an efficiency.  Now I think I could gain efficiency by memorizing a few things.  My list of things to memorize:

1 - passport number with expiry (saves time on check in for airlines)

2 - credit card numbers with CCV code and expiry (saves time for online purchases when buying from sites that do not "remember" - I actually think Amazon gets more business because they remember credit card information and make ordering faster and easier)

3 - Bank card number (for faster online banking)

And I am sure there must be other things.  Memory saves time.

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I am quite impressed by Organimi.    Functional.  Super easy to use.  Over 30,000 users already.

I think it will be one of my successful investments.

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I was speaking to my lovely daughter, Laura, who mentioned she had a friend over who said she had only read one book since university.   Laura said she could not count how many books she had read.

I suggested that perhaps she should take a math course.

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And a tidbit from one of the companies I have invested in:

“Hatsize is pleased to showcase our latest cloud-based training lab solution at ASTD,” said Guy Hummel, Hatsize CEO.  “Since the pace of change in learning and development is occurring at a rapid rate, this event is a great opportunity for industry professionals to gain valuable insights into new trends such as hands-on mobile training which is made possible by using Hatsize’s next generation cloud-based training lab solution that supports hands-on training delivery to any HTML5-enabled browser or device, such as a tablet.”  

Full details here.

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And from Seth Godin's blog:

Get rich (quick)


Enrich your world by creating value for others.
Enrich your health by walking twenty minutes a day.
Enrich your community by contributing to someone, without keeping score.
Enrich your relationships by saying what needs to be said.
Enrich your standing by trusting someone else.
Enrich your organization by doing more than you're asked.
Enrich your skills by learning something new, something scary.
Enrich your productivity by rejecting false shortcuts.
Enrich your peace of mind by being trusted.
The connection economy pays dividends in ways that the industrial one rarely did. 
Of course I am wondering how walking only 20 min per day is enough to get my fitbit steps in.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

5 Why's and a How

At one of the boards I am on, discussion turned to efficiency.  I suggested the 5 Why's process.  Other board members wanted more information on it and as I was writing the reply email, I thought I would turn it into a blog entry (partly because I am suffering bloggers guilt - the guilt a blogger feels for not posting enough)

The 5 Why's process is time tested and has been in use by hundreds of companies for years.  It is a great and fairly simple way to figure out where companies can gain efficiencies. 

There is lots written about the 5 Why's process on the internet so I will not try to re-explain what it is (basically drilling into things and not accepting the first answer - really trying to figure out the issue). 

The 5 why's process is done by someone sitting with each employee and asking/seeing what they do and why.

The value I thought I could add here are some of my experiences on what outcomes are discovered by using the 5 Why's process:

1 - Training gaps.  Often the process uncovers that staff need more or better training.

2 - Don't Do.  Often people are doing things that no longer need to be done.  These are often rooted in something that happened in the past or something that has changed since the process was implemented.  For example, in my personal situation, I stopped keeping and filing bank statements about 4-5 years ago.  When I first implemented the process, online records were not the norm that they are now.

3 - Interaction Friction.  Often slowness and inefficiencies happen at the point of pass off or interaction with another person or department.  Eliminating these points and figuring out how to make them smoother can add efficiency.

4 - IT Systems.  Often efficiency is limited by IT.  People wait for the system or can only do part of what they need.  Often small tweaks by IT can save hours.

5 - Tools.  Often the process discovers simple tools that can greatly increase productivity.  I recall in our warehouses we implement the use of aprons (like nail aprons) that were stocked with pens, knives, a rag etc - things people used all the time but often did not have at their fingertips.

6 - Areas of research.  Sometimes a process looks cumbersome but no immediate solution is derived.  That is when research kicks in - talk to someone with similar issues, search the internet, tour other operations etc.

The biggest innovation that I add to the process is to not only ask the 5 Why's but to add the How question.  And I like the How question to be fairly big.  EG - if you ask a sales person how they can increase sales by 5%, they do not think of changing process, they just think they will work a bit harder/better.  But ask how to increase 50% and they need to radically rethink what they do.

Adding the How question also helps break "excuses" and false limits.  5 Why's can reinforce beliefs which can be limiting.  EG - in analyzing a shipping line, the 5 why's might determine that only 1,000 parcels per hour can be shipped per hour.  And repeated asking could drive people to really believe they are working as fast and as hard as they can, reinforcing a false belief. 

But ask "How can we ship 1,500 parcels per hour" might elicit creative responses like add a new line or do things differently.

5 Why's and a How is a great way to drive efficiency.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Elevate

Read a book by Rich Horwath called Elevate - the Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking.

According the WSJ, strategic thinking is the most valued CEO skill.

Horwath starts with a discussion on why strategic thinking is critical.  And to usual list of reasons why it does not get the attention it needs.  He then quickly moves into his 3 disciplines.

First - Coalesce - fusing together insights to create an innovative business model.

Second - Compete.  Choose what strategies have competitive advantage (I am big on competitive advantage and view it as the cornerstone to success).

Third - Champion - Leading others to think and act strategically.  And execute the strategy.  (I have found often that implementation is what kills good strategy).

Good thought provoking book.

The main challenge I have with strategic thinking is dedicating the inspired time.  It is difficult to just say I will spend an hour on strategic thinking and come up with something brilliant.

But most of the problem with strategic thought happens because it is not urgent (although it is very important).  So like many important tasks, it can get pushed aside for the urgent.

Things I do to inspire strategic thought:

1 - read and research.  Without background, it is tough to come up with good strategies.

2 - Plant the seed.   I spend a 15-20 minutes trying to frame the challenge.  Then I leave it and go about my day, ideas come to me.  I often use this technique just before sleep as well.

3 - Log ideas.  I find ideas are sometimes lost but writing them down "saves" them.

4 - Set goals around doing it.  By setting goals and deadlines, I can artificially create urgency.

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I thought this article on how time could be used better was awesome.

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Interesting how colorful socks have "tipped" and seem to be the norm in the startup community.

See http://youtu.be/BtXH3shC5O8 - a company owned by friends of mine.
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Mark Fasciano's father was featured on CBS.  I have met Nick many times.  He is a true artist.
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Rain last night turned into snow this morning.  And it is March 31 in NY of all places.  An early April Fools joke perhaps?

And the New York Times had a cover story on climate change.  I wonder if they had the article prepared and waited for a day such as this to release it.



Victoria turned one.  And she is smart enough to write upside down in the snow (snow which is acceptable in Canada but in NY?...)



Friday, March 21, 2014

Leading with Your Legacy in Mind

I seem to be reading a lot lately so am behind in posting my comments on the books I have read.

One of those is Living with Your Legacy in Mind: Building Lasting Value in Business and Life by Andrew Thorn.

One way to set goals is to write a document dated in the future.  For example "It is December 2020.  I just finished my 5 mile run which seemed easy now that I weigh...".  Thinking of how things will be in the future can help them to happen.  So titling a book with Legacy makes it interesting to me.  If more people thought in those terms, I daresay more people would think longer term.

I have long thought that balance is over rated and Thorn agrees.

Life + Leadership = Legacy  (this is the title of chapter 1)

I liked the title of chapter 14.  "From Success to Significance".  Something in my strives to significance.

I liked some of the inspiring stories included in the book.

Some quotes:

"Purpose gives us the focus we need in order to ensure that what we are doing is aligned with our priorities"

"Our Legacy cannot be measured by what we do; it can only be felt by those we serve"

Thorn is a PhD so clearly knows how to research and is literate (it surprises me the number of books I read or start to read where the author is not).

Good book.


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I like Freakonomics.  I thought this podcast was interesting.  Apparently in Japan, houses are not a good investment.  On average, houses are torn down in 38 years (compared to 100 years in The US).

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And as I enjoyed the first day of spring harvesting overwintered leeks from my garden, my brother enjoyed snow in Canada.  This is a picture he sent that he took from his front door.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Startup Leadership

I read a great book - Startup Leadership - How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn their Ideas into Successful Enterprises.  From the title, you can tell, it is right in my sweet spot (although increasingly I am thinking I should consider working more with companies that want to go from $50,000,000 to $250,000,000 or even $1B since there are less people with that have done that.

I loved the book purpose "to help entrepreneurs succeed".

One point the book makes that I completely agree with is "know yourself".  The better an entrepreneur knows themselves, the more likely they are to succeed.

It speaks about the 3 basics - Projects, Process and Culture.  I am a big believer in Process.  The ideal business is one where you can build a replicable process that can be scaled.  And the job of the leader is to constantly polish the process.

Good culture allows decisions to be made easily.  The larger the company, the more the leaders job is to "coach on culture" and let others make decisions.

There is a chapter titled "Organizing to Succeed". This is key to success.

I loved the appendices that include things like "Traits, skills and motivations  of a good entrepreneur" and "5 prerequisites for change".

The final chapter speaks of "selfless acts of entrepreneurism".  The gist of it is "work for the good of the company, the staff, the customers" to build a great company.  Entrepreneurial leaders selfishly help others.

It almost inspired me to start a new business - that is how good it is.
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I knew chocolate was good for you.  Runners World has a new article on it.  I have a small investment in a chocolate company - Sweet Riot so buy theirs.

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I have always had an interest in efficiency (hence my book on time management).  I have studied speed reading.  So I was interested when a friend sent me a link to Spritzing.  I have not used the app but will try it.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Chris Hadfield - Canadian Astronaut.

I listened to and read Chris Hadfield's autobiography - An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth: What going to Space Taught me about Ingenuity, Determination and Being Prepared for Anything.  I took both the CDs and book from the library.  The CDs would be perhaps 10+ hours of listening and I had a lot of travel time but not quite that much so I also read part of it.  Hadfield narrated is own CD and he is a good reader.

I was totally inspired by it.  Hadfield is a great writer.  And of course the stories are gripping.

He is a driven person and part of the story emphasizes the importance of that.

To go to space requires a lot of study, preparation and planning.  That transfers to real life.  We succeed when we prepare to succeed.

Good book.  Highly recommended.

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I visited my university professor daughter, Laura on the weekend.  She has recently moved to College Station Texas to accept a position at Texas A and M.

She published a lot.  Her article on punctuation was accessible.

I loved College Station - neat, clean, safe and very low cost.  I loved the campus.  Lots of new buildings, well kept, huge.  They had the biggest fitness facility I have ever seen that includes a 1/4 mile indoor track, multiple basketball courts, huge pool, 20+ squash and racquetball courts.

I like university towns.   They tend to be environmentally advanced.  I loved that there were many bike parking areas - often with air and even one with tools.





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The new Canadian antispam law Bill C28 is interesting.  Because email is almost free, it has been overused.

At one time, I was stressed by spam.  I find Google tabs helps by sorting most of it out.  And when I actually analyzed it, I can actually deal with 50 spam messages in a couple of minute.  But often I cannot deal with a real email that requires action in less than 5-10 minutes.  So it is real email that creates workload.

There is a simple web questionnaire Canadian companies can use to see if they violate the new spam laws.  Try it here.

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And for those enjoying this weather.  Josh and Victoria are.



Monday, March 03, 2014

No Who - No Do

I had feedback on my last post - See Do Time Management System.  I was reminded that this can simply allow someone to spend their time doing busy work and never get to the important tasks.

Earlier I wrote a post on Good Procrastination.  See Do meshes with that.

Mostly what I was trying to inspire is good habits when there were NOT other more important things to do.  Inspire good habits even when you are tired and would otherwise waste time.

So - how to avoid this trap?

1 - Know your priorities and set specific times and places where you deal only with those things.  At those times - no See Do.

2 - When I am busy, I only See Do things I can do in 10 seconds or less.  If I am less busy, I might do 2 minute task.  So limiting and leaving things that take longer is one technique.

3 - Clean an area.  I used to move everything to my credenza (behind my desk) so they were not screaming "do me - do me".

4 - Have a To Do list.  One way to keep things from cluttering the mind is to write them down.  So sometimes rather than See Do, it is See and add to the To Do list.

Other ideas?

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I was in a board meeting recently and a the topic of starting a new initiative came up.  Companies always need to have new initiatives or they will fade long term.  So there was an idea and appropriately, it was raised "who wants to champion this".

The point was made - No Who - No Do.  Every new initiative needs a passionate champion to move things forward.

The Time Management equivalent of this could be No When - No Do.  Projects move forward when there is a specific time set to do the project.

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My brother Lyle and I both have Fitbit's.  He mentioned it is genius to use the power of peer pressure to get people to be healthy.   That works well for Lyle and I since we are both naturally competitive.  Too bad he cannot keep up with me.

Speaking of Lyle, he is a successful author (or storyteller).  He is doing an event in Brooklyn on Slow Money on March 20th from 6 to 8 PM.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

See it Do it - Time Management System

I recently lead a Time Management seminar loosely based on my Time Management book.

One of the best ways to learn is to teach and preparing for the seminar reminded me of many of the systems I need to re-incorporate into my life.

When I asked what people got from it.  One point people liked was See it - Do it.  Hardly needs explaining.  Often we see something simple like a bit of dirt that needs wiping or a dish that needs cleaning.  It causes stress to have things undone.  And if enough things are left undone, the chore of doing them all can be large.  So See it - Do it.  Simple.

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The Risk Advantage - Embracing the Entrepreneurs Unexpected Edge by Tom Panaggio.

The main thesis of the book is entrepreneurs have an edge because they are willing to risk.  It is that risk taking that sets them apart.

There is a chapter titled Risk and Opportunity are Soulmates.

One thing I have always said is "Fail Often, Fail Fast, Fail Cheap".   In my opinion, much of good entrepreneurship involved trying to mitigate risk.  This is done by research, and to some extent, capping the risk.

I have learned through some of my failed opportunities to also look at the downside.  Try to figure out ways to risk less if there is a downside.  This can be done through tax structuring.  It can be done by having fallback positions.

At the same time, entrepreneurs need to take action.  This is the Fail Fast part.  Sometimes people spend all their time researching and never end up doing.

I loved some of the quotes:

"The quickest way to shut up your detractors is to produce results"

"Fear of change is probably the biggest obstacle companies need to overcome to meet evolving marketplace challenges"

(it goes on to explain how to overcome this fear of change by inclusion, communication and participation)

"Don't confuse innovation with invention - the key to innovation is to make something better, which does not mean you have to invent something new"

Inspirational book.

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I am heartened to see the obesity rate in children is falling.  Health is one of my core values.

And a simple video that everyone should watch on power poses.

And Josh and Victoria enjoying the snow.





Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

I am loving the snow.


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I went to a YPO event where Gary Vaynerchuk, author of Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World.  As the title suggests - he is a marketer with a specialty in social media.  He is also author of Crush It and the Thank-you Economy.

I just read the book so some of my comments are from the book and some from his talk (and he is an engaging speaker).  Jab, Jab is a combination of his previous 2 books with some new angles.

He reinforced much of what I know about social media.  Things like - the world is changing.  Social media can be very inexpensive.  Embrace it or die.

The title is a boxing analogy.  Many marketers try for the knockout punch all the time without doing the pre-work.  You need to prepare the customers.  I believe his approach.  Add value to the conversation most of the time without regard to selling.  Once you are in the conversation, you can try the knockout.

I actually practice this approach with my own social media.  I Tweet, Linkedin update, Facebook update mostly quotes from famous people.  Just reminding people I am there.  Occasionally I will then promote something (although quite rarely).  I do the same with my blog.  99% of it is just my thoughts on random things then occasionally I mention a company I have invested in or perhaps promote my own marketing book (blatant plug) - Zero to $2 Billion - the Marketing and Branding Story Behind the Growth. 

He talks a lot about how to get over the noise.  "Even digital marketing is diluted" these days so you need to rise above to get heard.

He reminds us that people love a story.  Stories create emotion.  Emotion sells.

And his book has story after story.  Examples of good (and bad) uses of social media.  It is easy to read.

If I had any disagreement with his point of view it is that he does not understand "efficiency of distribution".  One of his big angles is cut out the middleman.  I would agree except in many cases that adds considerable cost to products.  This is mostly because of shared overheads but partly because of efficiency.  For example, when I was running SYNNEX Canada, we would often ship 10,000 parcels per day.  It was critically important for us to drive efficiency into the process.  We would focus on the time to ship, the cost of every label, cost of shipping - all aspects of cost.  If we could save even $.25 per parcel, that was $2500/day!

But mostly it was about shared overheads.  For example, we could do a trade show, marketing event, mailing, sales call etc promoting many products at the same time.  Or if we were shipping a skid to Staples, our added shipping cost to add an extra toner to the shipment was zero.

A vendor of a single product line would have dramatically higher costs.  Yes, we made a margin but it was much less than the savings.  In most cases, our margin might be the same as it would cost a vendor just for shipping by Fedex (since our rate was so much lower).  So the vendor saved the cost of picking, packing, box, label etc.

And the customers had the convenience of buying many products from the same source.   Imagine a world where you buy your lemons from one place and your bananas from another and your milk from another.  Customers want the efficiency too.

The whole event/book made me wish I had products to sell again.

Very inspirational.

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And no post is complete without grand children.  Josh and Victoria.



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Talk is Cheap - The Art of Conversation Leadership

Jim McCann, CEO/founder of 1-800 Flowers.com is a friend.  I suspect he has lots of friends - he is so humble an approachable for such a successful person.

He spoke at Canrock Ventures (He is great and entertaining).

He wrote a book - Talk is Cheap - The Art of Conversation Leadership.

McCann was a social worker working in a boys home and needed some extra money so got a job tending bar part time.  He took the job partly because he was shy and knew he needed to learn to talk to people.

There he met the owner of a flower shop.  The flower shop owner mentioned he wanted to retire so McCann suggested he work there part time for a few weekends to see if he liked the business.  He did so he bought a tiny, one location, flower shop.

He went to a conference and met Ted Turner who was just starting CNN.  He scraped together a small ad budget and places some ads.  Then a war happened and all other advertisers pulled their ads and Turner convinced 800-flowers to stay (and I think ran extra ads at no extra cost).  CNN's marketshare soared from 4 to 40% during the war and 800-flowers was the sole sponsor.  Business boomed.

So 1-800 Flowers toll free charges went through the roof and ATT called to see if McCann would do a customer testimonial ad that ATT paid for.  The ad was a success and resonated so ATT asked if they could do another series featuring McCann and then ATT sponsored the olympics.  So 1-800 Flowers was featured on the olympic ads at ATT's expense.  Business soared.

In the book, McCann talks about conversation.  About really listening to people and the power of that.  I know he is sincere in his practice of this art.

McCann talks about conversing.  Across hierarchies, for intimacy (not efficiency), across multiple mediums etc.

I loves that he promotes - "Never Stop Learning".

McCann recognizes that technology (like social media) amplifies a message and in part it amplifies the negative because of the anonymity and ease of it.  It is easy to blast someone who is faceless on Twitter - much harder than doing it face to face.

The book is filled with interesting stories that make it easy to read and really drives points home.

McCann is a natural marketer (in a good way) and it works well since he sells a product that everybody can buy..  Writing a book like this is a natural extension of that marketing.

Great book which I enjoyed even more because of my personal connection with the man.

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I am intrigued by the challenge of feeding the world.  Like energy, the lowest hanging fruit (no pun intended) is conservation.  Apparently 40% of the food produced in the US is wasted (I suspect it is actually higher).

I know I personally have always been appalled by food waste.  I think that is why I always make soup.  It is a great way to use close to 100% of the food.

Trader's Joe has an interesting food concept (under a different label)- selling expired food.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Makes Olga Run

One of my interests is longevity and closely tied to that is health.

I read an awesome book - What Makes Olga Run - The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star, and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives.

It is the story of Olga Kotelko who is breaking all kinds of seniors records in track and field.  The story is made human by author Bruce Grierson who compares his decline (and he is perhaps 50) to Olga's seemingly non-decline.   He is a great writer.

Nobel winner, James Watson, said "men of 50 do not like to fail - that is why they are so boring".  Something to think about.  Walk closer to failure to be more interesting.

My lessons from the book (some with my interpretations)

1 - Move.   We are not designed to just sit.  The Fitbit is perfect for keeping this in sight.  Grierson tells of setting himself up in an easy chair complete with footstool as his work area.  I, also, do this at night.  This is bad.  I need to look at a standup desk.

2 - Break a sweat every day.  The Fitbit can lull one into thinking they are active but I can do my steps without ever breaking a sweat.  It even counts as "very active" when I am just walking at a normal pace (perhaps 4 MPH).  I am fairly good at this but need reminding.

3 - Lift weights.

4 - Sleep.  I am really working on this one.

5 - Be an optimist.  Not a fake optimist but a real one.  This ties to "lighten up" - manage stress (the exercise helps).

6  - It is all about habits.  Design ones that support health.

The final chapter has 9 rules.  One that I like is "Don't do it if you don't like it".  The last one is "begin now".

She is an inspiration.

Good companion reading for this would be another of my favourites - Younger Next Year.

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And my heart goes out to my daughter Laura, now in Texas,  who has to deal with a horrific snow storm.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Inspiration from Hella Doman

I had the privilege Sunday of attending the funeral of the mother of a friend - Hella Doman.

I had met her but only briefly and did not know her story.

At the funeral, her story was told by her 2 sons who both were excellent speakers (especially in the circumstances).

She was born in 1925 in Holland.  Her parents separated when she was young (I think 6) so she returned with her mother to her mother's home in Germany.   Then Hitler happened and Hella was Jewish.  Hella was sent alone when she was 14 to Holland on the last train out of Germany.

Her father who had remarried and had a family did not want her so she was placed in an orphanage (despite having 2 living parents).  An uncle visited her there and found the conditions so bad, he insisted that his brother take her out of there so she was apprenticed as a hat maker.

Germany invaded Holland.  Hella,who was 17 by then, was moved to Northern Holland by the Dutch underground.  She was moved from farm to farm.  For a year, she was harbored in the basement of a barn under a cows' pen.

A few years later, liberation happened.

Hella returned home.  The orphanage was destroyed and there were no survivors.  Hella's father and family had died.  She did find her mother.  At age 21, she immigrated alone to NY.

In NY, she became an Xray technician and soon married a Polish doctor who started a modest practice in their basement.  She was the office manager and Xray technician.

She had 2 sons.

Her husband died at age 49 (he was older than her so she was likely not yet 40).  She was left close to penniless and went back to work as an Xray technician.  She followed and invested well in the stock market.  She was highly frugal.

One of her high values was education so when her sons went to university, she sold her house to put one through medical school and the other through law school.

I was moved by the realization of how easy my life has been and how resilient people can be.   And any problems I have seem so tiny.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sleep and Cold Snaps and Content Tidbits.

One thing the Fitbit does is track sleep.  I have less problems getting my steps in than I do my sleep.

There is an interesting article in the NY Times on sleep.  It seems the purpose is to "clean" the brain perhaps (although there is still much to learn about sleep).

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And the cold snap has broken so I am worried people will not have enough to complain about.  I actually like cold snaps.  I think they help get rid of germs and insects and keep the ecosystem under control.

And of course, they remind me of my childhood. 

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And in researching to see if freezing really does kill germs (it does but not as well as boiling them does), I found an interesting article that using warm warm water for handwashing is a waste of energy.  Thinking the same would apply to showering, doing dishes etc.  I wonder how long it will be before we do away with water heaters.

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One of my friends sent me an interesting article on the commodicization of content (articles and writing).  I know newspapers and magazines are having problems getting people to pay for information when so much information is free.

Personally, I also see a trend towards poor content.  Google certainly has their work cut out for them to try to give us "good" content in search results.  I know this from trying to Google if the deep freeze kills germs (plus many other searches I have done).

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Useful Workouts

I love the beauty of snow.

We had a light dusting (about 8 inches with drifts up to 2-3 ft).  So I got a "useful workout".  There is something gratifying about embarking in a physical activity that has an outcome like a cleared driveway.  I get less gratification by spending an hour on an exercycle or treadmill.

I spent 2 1/2 hours shoveling.  It was a workout but interestingly, my fitbit did not count it as "very active minutes".   It did count 4000 steps per hour of shoveling.

Useful workouts:

1 - Snow shoveling (4000 steps per hour)
2 - splitting wood
3 - gardening (lots of different degrees of workout)
4 - mowing grass (although the pollen tends to be bad for me on this one)
5 - Housework (1400 steps per hour) (and arguably less fun than other activities)
6 - Even walking someplace instead of driving would count.

Automation has taken away much of our exercise.  Something to think about.




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Interesting tidbits (with links to click if you want the article):

Isaac Isamov's predictions which were science fiction and how true they proved to be.

The 1929 book - Revolt of the Masses explains current social media phenomenon.  A good summary of it is here.

The midwest is bracing for some cold weather.  Apparently some parts of Canada are as cold as Mars right now.

My brother Glen has taken a break from blogging but now has a new post.  Wondering if there is a coincidence with global weather change and him posting.

What makes something go viral.  Comment from a friend on this one:  This article makes a good point:
"...an individual will eventually receive a message if a certain proportion of his or her friends already have that message."

One thing I've learned recently is that I don't go to my inbox to read messages...I go there to delete them. But if my 'friends' keep referring me to something I should look at, I can't ignore that.

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Victoria at 9 months






Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Attitude of Gratitude

One of the best habits to develop is an attitude of gratitude.  Anyone who can read this has much to be grateful for.  Some people journal daily about the things they are grateful for.  Great habit.

Today I am grateful for the little things like running water, electricity and heat.  I am reminded of this since my daughter and family have been living without any since the storm 3 days ago.  Fortunately they have a wood stove and food so even they have lots to be grateful for.

Picture of my daughters' home/driveway/yard:







Friday, December 20, 2013

Good Business Needs an Angle

 Some interesting stuff:

An article on Medium on the next big thing(s).

I enjoy Bob Sutton's blogs.

I am finding the Facebook entry into video ads interesting.

And Startup trends.

I love my new Fitbit.  I always tracked (using paper) the workouts I did.  What gets measured, gets done.  Despite being a tech guy, I often dislike gadgets but I love this one.

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I have the good fortune to be involved in a number of businesses so get to see what works.  Consistently I see businesses have success when they have an angle.  I have long been a proponent of niche which could be another way of saying having a unique angle. 

Selling identical product to a competitor means usually means it comes down to price.  But if your offering is unique or niche, it becomes more of a battle for value.

The ideal angle is something your business can uniquely do.  Something that you have competitive advantage in.  I repeatedly push businesses to have competitive advantage. 

My granddaughter, Victoria, listens well to business advice but I think she got confused and thought we needed an angel.





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