Thursday, April 28, 2011


I could almost call this a book report/book review blog.

So much of what I do in real life in angel capital, mentoring, board work, venture capital, selling businesses is confidential that it is tough to blog about it. I think it is also a spill over from running a public company where, again, confidentiality rules.

I use the 90/10 rule in blogging. 90% business/stuff people might be able to benefit from and 10% on my personal life (can only get away with so much boring stuff before you lose your audience)

Book reviews are “safe” fodder for thought and comment.

The other safe fodder is my personal self discovery. I like to observe myself to learn and improve.

My strengths tend to be my weaknesses. I enjoy starting things. Nothing gives me juice like a new business or deal. I love adding a bit of creativity in setting the process going. I then need partners/entrepreneurs to do the hard work of making it work.

I then try hard to add value while the business grows. Often the businesses enters new territory and sometimes my experiences can add value. But the bulk of what I can do it offer suggestions.

The other place I can add value is at the exit (that is what VCs call “selling the business”). I have been involved in dozens – well over 100 if you count both selling businesses and buying them especially if you include board work. Of course my involvement ranged from actually finding the deal, negotiating it and doing the work to close it through only approving deals that other people brought.

High creativity is a theme through most of my strengths. Much of it is unconventional. I often wonder if I would have been more successful with more convention.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Friendly Life

On my flight yesterday I read a short book (and a longer one but that review can come later). A Friendly Life if an autobiography of S. Presley Blake, the co-founder of Friendly Ice Cream.

I love success stories - especially ones that start from nothing. His start up reminds me of my first business start up (if you don't count the little ones like paper routes, selling cabbages, shoveling snow etc.). I started a painting business when I was 14 because I could not find a summer job that would take me on my terms. I wanted to go to camp for part of the summer and anyone hiring wanted someone for the whole summer.

That business grew over the years I did it. I hired my brothers and many of my classmates. I bought ladder, scaffolding etc. I negotiated paint discounts. I learned gorilla marketing. And I am sure the success I had at that gave me the confidence to start my technology distribution company as I was finishing my engineering degree.

Blake and his brother needed jobs and could not find one. They applied at the gas station etc. Imagine where he would be today had he been hired. The brothers would be open from 11 in the morning to 11 PM and then one of the brothers would stay to 5 in the morning to make ice cream for the next day. They were open 7 days per week.

There are good memories in the trials of startup regardless of the seeming hardship at the time.

In the end, they grew to 500 stores. He went public and then sold the Hersey. Hersey spun it off and the person who bought it went public again. Blake did not like the way it was run so at age 85 became a dissident shareholder, bought stock, sued the company etc. In the end it sold and was a happy ending.

In addition to the business story, it intersperses stories of his travel and the people he met.

I love that it is only 111 pages. I have become a bit twitterlike and prefer the short trend. Nothing riles me more than an author trying to say in 250 pages what can be said in 100 or in other cases what should be said in just an article.

Blake, at age 96 today, sounds like a great character.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Digital Diet

Beautiful day today. Weather was perfect.

I am enjoying sorrel, parsley, chives, parsnips and leeks from the garden. I am not enjoying the weeds and wondering why they grow so much better than the vegetables.

I read a great book "The Digital Diet - the 4-step Plan to Break Your Tech Addiction and Regain Balance in Your Life" by Daniel Sieberg. Seems ironic to be blogging about it.

Although I am a tech guy, I never really thought I had a tech addiction. What I like is trying to figure out what the future will be. I adopt many new technologies then basically drop them after I have a feel for them - saying "they are not for me" or "not yet, not now".

I am keenly aware of efficiency and time so always try to figure out the time savings vs the time cost of every technology. What is much more difficult to do that that is to figure out the voids being filled and what gets pushed aside for a new technology. I am also a health person so usually am aware of the health issues (many labour saving devices deprive us of the exercise we need so we end up saving time but having to work out)

Sieberg made two points the hit me. He says he had become a good "broadcaster" but not a good communicator. We have lots of connections but not much depth in those connections. Much of his addiction focused on social media and people thinking the experience was not complete without tweeting or blogging it. I have a bit of that and ironically, it actually pushes me to be a bit more productive. After all, I would not want to blog that I sat on the couch all day.

The second point is we are often persona's in social media and not real. For most people (including me), that would be true. In Social media, we present only one side of ourselves. Not deliberate dishonesty - just normal public presentation similar to shaving before a meeting. We do not let the world see our vulnerable and weak sides.

I have previously written about email - the greatest productivity invention in the past 30 years and one of the greatest productivity killers. And portable email (Blackberry etc.) enhances the good and the bad of email.

If I have any tech addiction it would be to email.

I found it ironic(seems to be lots of irony in this post) that a number of the tools he suggests are software programs. Program that can do things like block certain sites, track how long things take, limit time on certain sites etc.

I did not actually do the program but I am certain that it would be one way to help break the cycle (perhaps I do not feel addicted enough yet). His steps:

1 - Re-Think - what is the impact to technology on your life.
2 - Re-boot - take stock of your digital intake (he has a scorecard to do this)
3 - Re-Connect - focus on restoring live and real relationships
4 - Re-Vitalize - learn healthy ways of interacting and using technology. Life is about balance.

Seiberg was a CBS and CNN reporter so knows how to write. The book is well written.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Managers. Can You Hear Me Now? and Email Distraction

One concept mentioned in the Now Habit is how we make problems more difficult than they are (I partly bring up the Now Habit again due to the wrong credit I gave earlier this week). The analogy that sticks in my head is "imagine walking 20 ft on a 2 by 6 laying on the ground (no trick here- on the wide side). Now image walking across the same 2 by 6 strung between 2 sky scrapers. We often make jobs difficult in our minds in a similar way."

I read Denny Strigl's new book "Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? Hard Hitting Lessons to Get Real Results.". Strigl is the former CEO of Verizon (and no, I do not yet know him).

The first chapter starts with "Why Managers Struggle". Things like failing to build trust and integrity, wrong focus, no accountability etc.

It then quickly moves into 8 other short chapters focusing around one key manager trait. My favourite chapter is on managing distractions (this is almost time management or at least a part of it). "The more managers focus on distractions, the less they focus on results".

And of course that chapter starts with email - the greatest efficiency tool in recent years and the greatest inefficiency as well. He has a list of how to manage email that is as good as any I have seen (there is always duplication in how to do it right).

His managing email list (paraphrased in some cases):

- keep emails short (those who know me, know I have this one down well)
- do not send to a group if only one person needs to know
- never send an email when you are angry
- before replying or even reading an email ask "what is the worst that could happen if I delete this"
- do not spend more than 5 minutes dealing with one email
- if your email beeps, turn off the beep
- do not judge how much you have accomplished by how many emails you send
- if you do not think you can go into a meeting without peeking at your email, skip the meeting

It is a good book for leaders and managers alike.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Little Book of Leadership Development Review

First an errata. I wrongly gave credit to the procrastination log yesterday to the wrong author (perhaps I read too many time management books). The audio program I as listening to was The Now Habit - A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play.

I like reading but I also like short books. Perhaps that is why my Time Management book is only 77 pages (or perhaps it is because it is more efficient to only write 77 pages).

So I liked "The Little Book of Leadership Development - 50 Ways to Bring Out the Leader in Every Employee" by Scott Allen and Mitchell Kusy. Long title but concise book. Like the title that says exactly what the book is about, each chapter does the same thing. In one or two pages a leadership concept is presented and expanded on.

I like that there are 50 ideas to choose from. When I lead seminar, my goal is to have people come away with 2-3 things they can incorporate in their lives. This book can be used the same way. Choose a few ideas and use them.

One example chapter is "Switch it Up". Changing assignments within a team can inspire and motivate. It helps for team members to have familiarity with other parts of the job. It can not only increases skill (which can be motivational on its own), it increases organizational understanding. And swapping tasks helps keep the team "fresh" and challenged.

It can be a "different set of eyes" on a challenge.

Other chapters include things like "Remain focused on Solutions - Not Barriers", "Create Teachers and Leaders", "Ask Tough Questions (and I would add easy ones also - just asking can promote positive action)", "Coach for Performance" and "Hold standing one on ones" and 44 other topics.

It is a great book for any leader.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Power Formula for Linkedin Success

I made a comment on Breaking Away - Innovation that one must not just listen but hear. There us a good post on authentic listening on Faith Fuqua-Purvis' blog.

Busy weekend. Mostly relaxing. I ran a 4 mile race for Autism on Sunday. Beat my 30 minute goal by 2 seconds so that was good. Moved 12 tons of dirt by hand (yes, I calculated it - 8 Cubic Yards, 54 wheelbarrow loads of 30 shovels each) so am good sore.

I am listening to Do It Now - Break the Procrastination Habit by Dr William Knaus so I figure I cannot really procrastinate on doing a blog post. One of his suggestions is to keep a procrastination log noting what you are procrastinating on, feelings about it, why, what you do instead etc. And since I started one, I have to do things since I would never want to put anything in it.

I read a great book by Wayne Breitbarth called "The Power Formula for Linkedin Success - Kick-start Your Business, Brand and Job Search".

I use Linkedin but learned from Breitbarth that I am not as good as it as I can be. First inspiration was to make sure my profile was complete (and it is now).

I realize that I use Linkedin less than I could for searching out new contacts. Will start doing that more.

I like that on Linkedin, people keep their own contact information up to date.

I do updates on Linkedin (mostly business quotations from famous people and being the time efficient person that I try to be, I do the same update on Twitter, Facebook etc.)

One thing I did on Linkedin was hide who I am connected to. I was finding some people were abusing the relationship by contacting my contacts and implying that I was endorsing the approach.

A book like Breitbarth's reminds me of the power of Linkedin.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Breaking Away - Innovation

It is my birthday today. So a time of reflection. Concerned I have much to do still and the clock is ticking (although I fight that also).

I read a great book yesterday by Jane Stevenson and Bilal Kaafarani called Breaking Away - How Great Leaders Create Innovation That Drives Sustainable Growth - And Why Others Fail.

I loved the title (although perhaps not the part about failing) since I think a large part of leadership is fostering innovation.

I am, of course, a great believer in innovation. I think one of my strong points is high creativity (not in the artistic sense but in the business innovation sense). I also see success as being tied to those that can innovate and that involves openness to change.

Early in the book, they make the distinction between innovation and discovery and invention which although they are "cousins" are not the same. By their definition, innovation has to be unique, valuable and worthy of exchange.

The authors use a 4 part model for innovation - Transformational, Marketplace, Category and Operational. Each innovation in these quadrants have their own characteristics.

One subsection that really resonated was "don't just listen - hear". Logical and should apply to almost everything in life.

And the book ends with how to create an innovation strategy for a company:

1 - Set Innovation Priorities (I know that setting goals in anything is the best way to accomplish things so this one makes total sense to me)

2 - Establish Success Metrics

3 - Develop Clear Communications

And it ends with GO - Just do it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

It Takes No Time

I have long studied and practiced time management. I even wrote a book on the topic.

One technique I use it to try to identify if something actually does take any time and often I have found they do not.

One of my favourite examples of this is working out. It takes me about 22 minutes to run 3 miles (although since I now use the 1% Solution I always run 3.03 miles now). I do this before I shower in the morning so it takes me no extra shower time. I figure the added energy I get through the day saves me 22 minutes of productivity. And working out also allows me to be rested well with 10 minutes less sleep. Hence I justify it as taking no time.

So I have been gardening a lot lately and was wondering if I could apply the same idea. I can garden for 40 minutes in the morning instead of working out and likely get more exercise (I know I can get sore from doing it). And I deliberately garden at a brisk pace to make it a workout.

So where can I get the other 18 minutes from this? I figure it takes double that to go to the grocery store. So I am saving trips once things are in full harvest. The only reason I would need to grocery shop weekly is for fresh fruits and vegetables.

And perhaps healthy organic home grown produce will keep me healthier so big savings on that. Although hayfever hurts my productivity.

Might just be a justification for doing something I enjoy (and doing things I like can also be good). And a small part of me knows life is not all about productivity.

At this time of year there is little harvest except for overwintered parsnips and leeks which are awesome. And chives and parsley are coming on and can be used in small amounts now. Spinach, lettuce and peas have been planted and the garden has never had this much preparation so is well dug.