Monday, November 28, 2005

7 Goal Setting Activities

Today was a Guelph day. Making sure I am on top of things for upcoming travel.

I spent some time this weekend on Goal Setting. Goal Setting is a bit of a hobby for me. I sometimes worry I spend too much time planning and not enough time doing. While doing this Goal Setting, I came up with 7 Goal Setting Activities:

1 – I like to keep a central list of goals. Everything I want to do, be, experience etc. Then all I do is to add to this list whenever something interesting comes up.

2 – Of course there is the old faithful = SMART. All goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timed. On the Timed, I like to add deadlines to all goals and subgoals (see 4)

3 – My favourite goal setting exercise takes 40 minutes. Take 4 blank sheets of paper. On the top of one write “values”, on one write “what do I want to do, be or experience in this lifetime”, on one write “What would I do if I have 6 months to live”. On the last one write “goals this year”. And you guessed it – spend exactly 10 minutes per page. The final sheet becomes your goals.

4 – I like to add the reasons for attaining a goal (and the reasons why not attaining it is bad). The more clear I am on the reasons, the more drive I have to complete the goals. At this point I sometimes add rewards or punishments to accentuate the results I get from goal attainment.

5 – Break down the big goals into smaller subgoals. This makes the goals less daunting, easier to start and easier to move forward on.

6 – Choose only 4-5 goals to work on at a time. I have a rule that I only leave goals on my immediate list if I am prepared to spend one hour per week on them. If I am not willing to do this, how much of a goal can they be.

7 – Review goals daily. I like to look at my goals daily since this tends to focus me on what are important things to work on today.

After all that thought on goals, I did not come to the clarity I want on my current goals. I do know I want to move strategy up my list so hence the post on gorilla vs. guerilla. I do know some minor activity area that need polish but these do not rate as goals.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

RIM party

Tonight was the RIM Christmas party (I am a director). After a long week, it was a welcome break. The party was huge and took up the largest venue in the KW area (Bingeman Park). Seeing all the new staff (RIM is up to 4000 employees) and having the accomplishments read was certainly humbling. It inspires me when I read, see or hear of other people or companies that do great things. The RIM party inspired me. It made me realize that I need to get working if I am to drive SYNNEX to the level I want.

It will be challenging but also fun.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk

Tonight Elizabeth and I attended the Kerr Saltsman Lecture series at the University of Waterloo. The speaker was Robert Fisk, foreign correspondent for the Independent of London, England. He is a great speaker – more of a story teller than anything. He has covered the middle east for 30 years. He has been in many many wars – Iran/Iraq, Belfast, Kosovo, Baghdad etc. He has seen the agony of war and violence. His experience has lead him to be a pacifist. At the same time, his writing has caused him to be labeled as a traitor.

People from the audience took away different messages. Some took away that he was anti American and anti Bush. Some took that he was pro Muslim. Others took that he was just anti violent.

His latest book is “the Great War for Civilization”. He calls it depressing and undersells it as a 1000+ page depressing history of the current strife in the middle east which has no answers.

He is a historian who follows what has happened in the world for centuries. He spoke of lessons we can learn from history. I would like to study more history.

The only part I did not like is he appears to not embrace technology – rejecting both the internet and email.

I guess for someone who is not political (me), I manage to hear a lot of political speakers and read a lot of political books.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Guerilla versus Gorilla

Busy day. Board meeting. Guelph for a few hours then Ronson then Guelph again. Although I did get a work out in, it was short.

I have been thinking a lot lately about strategy and how different stratgy is at SYNNEX than at EMJ. I am thinking about what similarities and what differences there needs to be in our strategy now in order to thrive. I constantly seek strategy that allows us capitalize on our advantages and minimize our weaknesses. Sort of like what I try to do with myself.

The following is an article on strategy I wrote in 2000.

‘Guerilla’ versus ‘Gorilla’

by Jim Estill
President – EMJ Data Systems Ltd.

We make our living as guerillas – not the bad kind, but more of a freedom fighter. By using the term ‘guerilla’ I mean EMJ fights for business against big gorillas (other distributors) in the field. Our competitors are almost 100 times our size; EMJ is a Canadian-based, $165 million per year distributor. We have made an operating profit for the past 80 consecutive quarters. So even though we are up against the big gorillas as a distributor, we must be doing something right.

If you are in a business where some of the competitors are much larger, you may be able to benefit from using guerilla tactics. The principles of running a guerrilla organization differ from running a gorilla organization. As a guerrilla, we hide from our competitor; we do not try to crush them. I even go so far as to examine what they do well and let them do it. At the same time, I look for under-serviced markets and get to these markets fast.

A gorilla takes all competitors head on, trying to crush the competition. Sometimes this takes the form of a price war. Sometimes it takes major prolonged, drawn-out investment. This works as long as you are the same size, or larger than the competition. Even then, such a long battle can sap power and ultimately profits.

Companies that die often believe they were gorillas. It is certain death for a business to fight gorillas unless they can withstand the siege. Any time we hire someone with a gorilla-company background, we watch and coach that person to make sure they are indoctrinated with the appropriate tactics. We have to make sure they understand out business model.

My 8 favourite guerilla tactics are:

1 – Act fast. I use my company’s size for my advantage. I can act lightning fast. In the computer business, this is a huge asset. Things change so rapidly that moving fast and being first to market is a huge advantage. Larger companies do not react quickly. Develop a reputation for being first – it gets the attention of customers.

2 – Welcome smaller opportunities. Gorillas tend to say ‘no’ to manufacturers who don’t think they can do significant volume with. But a small opportunity rejected by a gorilla can be a very profitable opportunity for a guerilla. For EMJ, a million dollar per product line is an opportunity big enough to get the attention of my first string. In your business, look for the right-sized opportunity for you. Frequently, it is the smaller opportunity that has the best promise. The gorillas will leave you alone. There is always a right-sized opportunity for a company of any size. Knowing your rightful place in the market can help you to thrive.

3 – Get focussed. Higher focus means we know more, stock more, and sell more product of fewer manufacturers. The smaller our product listing, the more powerful we become. We know a lot about a little. That means we know the products we sell better than a gorilla, and we become a sales tool for the reseller, not just an order-taker. Could you become more focused and specialized in a business area by giving up on a part of your business?

4 – Be more flexible. We can adapt more easily to our customers and suppliers. We try not to be ruled by policy. The bigger a company gets, the more likely they are to have policy and some of it is required. As a small distributor, we can be more flexible. Are there areas that your competition is ignoring that by being more entrepreneurial, you can capitalize on?

5 – Be smarter. This sounds too simple, almost embarrassing to write. Since we are smaller, we can look at the business we do more carefully and make sure it makes good business sense. We don’t pick up another manufacturer just to increase the size of our line card. That’s just not good business sense for us. That’s the way we have to think – and so should you.

6 – Lower your overhead. For some reason, most companies seem to choose more expensive offices and furnishings as they grow. This expectation tends to increase costs in all areas of the company that distribution, at current margin levels, can ill afford. At EMJ, we buy quality used furniture. We are on the outskirts of Guelph where the cost of land and taxes is less. Our capital base is even high enough that our cost of capital is less than some of the gorillas. Are there areas that you can be lower overhead than the gorillas in your field? Costs always add up on the bottom line.

7 – Foster staff loyalty – one major advantage guerillas have over gorillas is the ability to attract, motivate, and keep good people. Primarily this is because guerillas can be more flexible, easier to work for and give people more of a sense of accomplishment because what they do contributes more directly the company’s bottom line. I have always found there to be great power by being smaller and treating my people with respect and not just as numbers. Gorillas can try to do this but it is tough for them to copy you.

8 – Just BE a gorilla. We like to enter market areas that we can dominate and specialize in. We may not be the biggest but in certain specific niches, we dominate. As long as we are the biggest in an area, we can act the part. We can under-price and over-service the competition forever. Anyone who enters our markets learns that it is expensive and often impossible to unseat us.

9 – Be personal. One thing a smaller organization can do is to be more personal. People buy from people. You can foster relationships that will help you sell. Part of the way we are personal is by showing our customers what markets and products ARE profitable. There is nothing that cements a customer relationship better than making them money, because you’ll be making money for them AND for you!

10 – Be opportunistic – to sum up guerilla strategy is simply to be opportunistic. Take advantage of opportunities that the gorillas cannot do. There are many companies that remain profitable by being opportunistic.

In summary, unless you are huge – think guerilla. Appropriate guerilla tactics for your size will win any battle.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Secrets of good Blog Posts

It has been a while since I last posted. I have been to California (Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon) and in North Carolina this weekend for a brothers’ weekend. Yes my real brothers. The 4 of us meet once or twice a year for a weekend. We play a lot a bridge, laugh a lot (my older brother Mark is a hugely funny guy), strategize, help each other, compare projects and compete on just about everything (like who uses the least fuel (we all drive either hybrids or Biodiesel vehicles or who generates the most energy (Lyle and Glen are both in the energy business – biodiesel and wind generation) etc. Generally a great weekend each time we meet.

I have had blog feedback. Many people like the article posts (my rules of time and how to write an article in 20 minutes). Some people don’t think they are personal enough and to a certain extents, blogs are about voyeurism into the lives of others. Some think I should keep it brief, others think I need to get into things deeper. So the morale probably is “mix it up a bit” – some depth, some fast (since this is about time, most will be fast), some more in depth.

This week will be a busy one with the number of calls and meetings already scheduled. Later this week is US Thanksgiving so might be a bit calmer later in the week.

Monday, November 14, 2005

8 Tricks to Write an Article in 20 Minutes

One thing I notice is I tend to work until I am tired. Unfortunately when I work at my Ronson office, I have almost a one hour drive so if I work until 9, I don't get home until 10 and then need a bit of wind down time. Off to California tomorrow but back Wednesday. It sounds glamourous but its not. 10 hours of flying in 2 days.

On writing:

It takes me only 20 minutes to write a 400-500 word article. This article (that I wrote in 20 minutes) explains some of the tricks I use to accomplish this. I started thinking seriously about this when I started blogging. Blogging gave me a deadline (almost every day) and I did not want to spend more than 20 minutes each day on blogging. Many of my blog entries are actually less than 500 words so take me less time.

1 – I start with a list of ideas and concepts I want to cover. Usually I write this list in point form. For me, I do this the old fashioned way, with a pen and paper.

2 – I often “incubate” an article for a few days (that does not count in the 20 minutes). What I do is start roughing out some topic ideas then leave it. Because I have thought about it, ideas tend to come to me that I frequently add to my points. Of course I always carry a notebook for ideas.

3 – I often need to reduce the number of ideas that I cover. Sometimes they do not fit with the angle of the article or do not flow with the other ideas. Sometimes I have to give up a point to write a good article.

4 – Never save a good idea. When I know I have many article deadlines to meet(EG blogging), it is tempting to “save” a few good ideas for later. New ideas will always come so always give your best ideas.

5 – Develop tricks to get past writers block. One way I do this is ”warm up” writing. I just sit down and write for 5 minutes. This tends to help subsequent writing to flow. Another way I do this is to go for a walk, cycle or a run (although sometimes I think I might use this to procrastinate a bit too). Another trick I use is to make a game out of the deadline – say I will do it by X. Perhaps I am simple but this motivates me.

6 – Come back to it later. My best articles are written partly, revisited a few times, then finished. I spend the same 20 minutes, though only 5-7 minutes per session. Of course if the ideas are flowing well, I do keep writing.

7 – I often write 3-4 articles at the same time. Spending 5 minutes on one, 7 on another etc. When I am really in writing flow, this works well.

8 – One trick is using bullet points or numbered points as in this article. People seem to like this technique and it helps articles flow for me.

So if I can write so quickly, why don’t I write a few articles each day? Apart from the fact that I have a very full time job, writing is the easy part; coming up with the ideas is the tough part.

Ideas anyone?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Jim Estill's 8 rules of Time

I study the use of time and how to maximize productivity and enjoyment from it. From these studies, I have come up with the following list of time rules:

1 - It is more important to have clear goals than to be efficient. It is more important to work on the right things than to work efficiently. I liken this to the person who wants to get to Sudbury so gets in their car and drives 150 Km/hour. Does he get there before the person who checks the map (direction) and drives less efficiently at say 100 KM/hour? Driving in the right direction is more important than driving fast. I call this Leadership before Management. Leadership is about direction, management is about efficiency. This is why I called my CD "Time Leadership".
2 - Energy use is more important than time use. I can get much more done if I have the right energy than if I just spend the time. Because of this, I work on things that give me energy (eg. exercise, working on things I am inspired by, avoiding things that drain my energy etc.). I also try to recognize when I am high energy and spend those time doing high productivity tasks.

3 - Know what you have to do. I am not referring to goals here, I am referring to specific tasks. Every course and book on time management talks about the "TO DO" list or some variation on it. Part of the reason for this list is to be able to prioritize (see 1). It also helps you to know your loading. One trick on a TO DO list is to put the first action to take to start on that item right on the list. Eg. If I am calling a vendor, I might need to get a briefing on the relationship as the first step.

4 - Learn to say NO - politely of course. If you know your goals and priorities (see 1), you will see what things you are being asked to do that infringes on them. Having a TO DO list helps you know if you have time (see 3).

5 - Learn tricks. For me, the best sources of tricks are from other people who are effective in their jobs. I also get them from books and audio programs. Some of the more effective tricks I use are:

- Do the worst thing first thing. I choose the one thing I am procrastinating on and spend 15 minutes on it first thing.

- I love the power of while. What can you do while you are working out or driving (of course first priority needs to me to drive safely).etc? Often the answer is audio books.

-I love the power of focus. This conflicts with the previous tip but in some circumstances this is the best way to get things done. Focus only on the task you are working on at the time.

6 - Track how you spend your time. On the tracking sheet record what things give you energy and what things take energy (see 2). Determine how you think you should spend your day and from the time sheets figure out the changes you might want to make. One concept I have worked on is "The Perfect Day". What would be the elements of your perfect day?

7 - Get rid of your TV, or at least control your use of it. TV is North America's biggest time waster. I have nothing against entertainment but I think many people use TV as a time waster and do not get great entertainment or learning from it.

8 - Study time use. I have written many articles and published a CD (and before that an audio tape) on Time Management. Even though I have read 40-50 books on the topic, over 100 articles, listened to many audio programs and attended half a dozen time management courses, I always learn something new when I read a new one.

Finally, many people think I am too efficient or time focused. I do not deny that I am somewhat. However, good time use can also lead to a fuller life. Why not spend the time you need to spend effectively so you have more time to do other things you want to do?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Blogging in the media

I notice a lot about blogging in the press lately. CRN published an article on it. Of course I had advance information that one was coming.

Many publications picked up the recent survey released by Burson-Marsteller and PRWeek, conducted by Millward Brown including emarketer. Read the original business wire release .

I see IBM encourages their staff to blog in an article in CNN Money.

I am a marketer at heart. It fascinates me to see markets develop. I love trying to figure out what things become trends. I like trying to figure out how to capitalize on them. Sometimes I even like to think I can encourage them to happen. So the question is, will blogs become mainstream? What will the impact of blogs be?

Speaking of marketing, I have a couple a articles to write including one for Dave Daniels Carnival of Computing so should get to it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Live off Peak

I flew in today arriving at 6. 2 choices – stop by my Ronson office (very close to the airport) for a couple hours or go home. I chose to go home and struggled with traffic for an hour and a half. What a waste (although another rule I live by is always having audio books in the car).. One of my rules is to live off peak. I try to never travel during rush hour. I avoid stores, the gym and just about everything if I know it is a busy time.

Mark Cox (one of my favourite tech writers - he writes well and often has good insights) wrote an article on CEO blogs that I thought was interesting. It seems many CEO's think having a blog is a good idea but few actually do it (or plan to do it).

I was subject to office politics today. Tough to manage from a distance. Some of my people were feeling unfairly treated (or perhaps I should say not equal to other people). Fairness is a big motivator (or demotivator) for people. Hopefully it has been handled. Unnecessary source of stress and time waster though.

Tough day tomorrow. Much catch up to do and quite a few meetings and calls. Will be an early morning.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Habits, Reviews and Commitments

Today I overbooked. So I work late (I am not done yet – just taking a blogging break) to try to get caught up on what I wanted to do. Worse than overbooking is over committing. I really hate it when I commit to doing something and don’t follow through. A good part of this has to do with knowing my loading and planning accordingly.

My brother Lyle got a review of sorts published on his book. I should consider getting someone to write a review on my Time Management CD.

I was speaking to one of my friends, Rick Jamieson, tonight. He commented that I had self discipline to blog. Not true. Habits require no self discipline – they just happen. For example, do you have good self discipline to brush your teeth? No – it just happens by habit.

Life is the product of what we repeatedly do. Think about what habits would help make you a success.

The Power of Full Engagement

Good but slightly long day yesterday. Ended with a dinner with one of my mentors - Dr. Joe Martin, a U of Toronto professor and my daughter, Laura who attends U of T. Joe is a business historian who always has views on the economy, trade, politics etc. He always has great stories and wisdom.

On the weekend, I read a great book - The Power of Full Engagement by Loehr and Scwartz. I had listened to the audio version several weeks ago.

The thesis of the book (which I beleive in) is "Managing Energy, Not Time is the key to high performance". Too bad I had already published my time CD. The energy concept is a great one. Of course that does not mean the key to high performance might be to manage both time and energy.

I instinctively have always managed my energy including building systems that support increased energy. One part of my time tracking system is to track what tasks give you energy and what tasks drain energy. By recognizing both, you are in a better position to spend time on energy creating tasks.

So my time tip today is to track eneergy and manage it to optimize performance.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Blog Power - Forbes Attack of the Blogs

Deliberately down day Saturday - not as in depressed as in not actively working (just a bit of reading). Sometimes it is productive to have a down day.

Fairly productive day today although, as often, I overscheduled or underestimated how long it would take to get things done. Read 2 books (more on those later), cleaned my den and filed stuff, read 25 magazines (I was behind), moved 1/2 full cord of wood, ran 6 K (slow), did a lot of email, played with spreadsheets. One of my favourite sayings is "People tend to overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year (or a decade)."

One of the magazines I read was Nov 14th Forbes. The cover story was "attack of the Blogs." The article was generally anti blogs and told of horror stories of anonymous bloggers ruining people's reputations. All I can say is:

1 - it is not that easy to get a wide enough blog readership to have an impact. With the number of blogs coming online now, it will only get harder.

2 - How much stock do people put into anonymous bloggers (although the article did talk of impersonators also)? As media continues to proliferate, people will continue to discriminate and become even more skeptical and questioning of the source of information.

3 - Is Forbes concerned that Blogs are a new media that might challenge traditional media?

4 - as Seth Godin (0ne of my favourite authors) says of blogs "they need to have an edge to get readership." Controversy and points of view are edge.

5 - Does the conventional press not have the same power to ruin (or make) a reputation? Media comes with power and responsibility.

Somthing to think about. Are blogs becoming more mainestream?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Planting the Seed

I have written about this technique in my blog before. The following is an excerpt from an email I sent to a small group of people I am managing right now:

"I am a business philosopher. Sometimes I get philosphical.

The creativity technique I wanted to share tonight is called "Planting the seed". What I do is think about a problem (in this case, you just read about it). Spend not much more time than to read it and write it on your todo list and start a blank page in your notebook for your ideas. Then I forget about it and go about doing my daily tasks. What I find is the idea tends to incubate when I am not thinking about it I come up with ideas and solutions. This is where the notebook comes in - capture your ideas in it."

And then I assigned a challenge for them to think about and come up with ideas around. So I will see it the technique is too weird for them and what solutions they find.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Normal busy day today - meetings and calls. I am excited that I had a new Fujitsu Scansnap installed. Awesome product that can scan everything from business cards to powerpoint to spreadsheets complete with character recognition. I am looking forward to using it.

Was not all work today. Played duplicate bridge tonight and came in second out of about 15 tables. Of course now I am paying for that by having to stay up to get caught up on email.

I am thinking a lot lately about marketing and branding. One of my favourite books is "the 22 immutable laws of Branding" by one of my favourite authors Al Ries.

And my favourite quote on branding is from Jeff Bezos, founder of

“Branding is what people say about your company after you leave the room.”

Now I just have to figure out what I want people to say.