Monday, July 31, 2006

Off-Site and Out of Our Minds!

I can think of some pretty horrible things a boss could say to his or her employees: "We're downsizing and, although we appreciate your contributions".... "We've been bought out by the Lithuanians and, you're really going to think this is funny, but they've got this language requirement"...."We're instituting office sharing and you get Tuesdays and Thursdays".... "We think it might be SARS, but we've been assured that our new Ionic Breeze air cleaners will take care of it"...

Nothing, however strikes eye rolling and sighs of disgust as "Everybody. We're going on an off-site."

My last JFSEWB (job for someone else with benefits) was off-site-happy. We were lousy with "great ideas" to get away to think things over. We had the obligatory ropes course avec trust fall. Of course. We also had a strange gathering of managers with a Junguan analyst where we were treated to massage (I'm not kidding) and required to draft personal mission statements after walking out into the wilderness (of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin) until we found a place that "called to us." I"ve been camping and skiing. I've seen talking sticks (you can only speak while you're holding it -- a practical joke from our Native American brethren and sistren, to be sure) and colored hats, pebbles with adjectives on them (we were to speak from this adjective for the entire weekend) and a whole host of other trite attempts to be productive with forced togetherness.

When my clients ask me about off-sites, I sigh deeply and, trying valiantly to keep my opinions to myself (I fail here), I ask them why they think this would be a productive use of their time. It must be the tone of voice, coupled with the fact that my clients are superiorly clever, intuitive people (down to the last man and woman). They pause and contemplate, sensing their coach ready to pounce, then offer: "Because we can get a lot more done out of the office?"

Good answer. But, is it true? Consultants who study the effectiveness of training and planning interactions offer that off-sites, in the main, are only about 10% effective, wasting a lot of time with games and filler, while workers back at the office become increasingly incensed at having to hold down the fort. Companies with strained or superficial workplace relationships use off-sites in an attempt to cement relationships and wind up spending more time at this than in planning, brainstorming and focus-grouping (they try to wedge it in anyway).

When I work with my clients, they find that they need much less time in an off-site than they thought. I ask them to consider using long lunches to work on one problem at a time, rather than to try to get several things done at once. This way, they can build their off-site skills.

Questions to be answered can be:

  • What are our commitments? This could be the business goal or strategy we're involved with right now on this project? If we're doing strategic planning, this could be the creation of Mission (chief aim), Vision (the future for our business that provides us with a context from which to operate) and Values (what are we commited to not leaving out)
  • Where do we say we need to be on this project? With the company?
  • Are we there?
  • Why or why not? Is there something missing, the presence of which would make a difference?
  • If we don't know, how will we find out?
  • Relationship managemet: Whether we win or lose, does everyone feel valued and cared for? Blamed and deflated? What do you need (to re-energize yourselves)?
  • What possible actions can we take to get there?
  • How will be pick an action to develop and implement?
  • What are our next steps?

I think effective off-sites are cultural in a business. Meaning, that if a company hosts them frequently, tied to business strategy, and the results of the off-site can be seen in the organization, they make a difference.

Chime in: What are your best and worst off-site stories. Do share!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Apple of Death

I'm hanging with Garland at a bookstore. A perfect way to wind down a weekend. I found a great magazine, Mental Floss that aims to challenge our thinking. In it, they explain that eating apple and apricot seeds - something momma told us not to do will actually kill you.

I wonder what other tidbits of mother-wit we've discounted....that turn out to be true?

Friday, July 28, 2006

LNB #017 - Create Your Kitchen Cabinet (Advisory Boards)

Business advisory boards are tools for furthering your business interests, increasing your networks, generating new ideas and advancing projects -- all of this without the formal responsibilities of a Board of Directors.


  • Your business and personal goals

  • Who can best help you

  • What do you need them to do

  • How you will reward them

  • How to work with them

There's more information in the White Paper. Visit and follow th e link to E-Books/White Papers for more.

Duration: 33 minutes, 42 seconds File Size: 8.09 MB

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Um, My President Just Felt Up the German Chancellor.

I'm going to send in a proposal to do sexual harassment training for the White House. I'll keep you posted.

Aside from the fact that this is surprising and a little sad, it brings home the fact that harassment and sexual harassment have so fallen off the radar that even the President can find himself touching inappropriately.

Question for you is: do you know what constitutes the kind of speech and touches that can get your company dropped into the soup? Having done this kind of training and coaching for a number of years, I'll bet the answer is "No."

Friday, July 21, 2006

LNB #016 - Are Incubators Hatching Sound Businesses?

Business incubators were started 40 years ago in Batavia, New York to address common concerns – that first-time entrepreneurs with good ideas weren’t getting the funding, resources and support they needed to succeed and great business ideas were being lost. They address issues of expertise, resources, and social capital with

  • Resources: supplying printing, clerical support, internet and telephone services as well as funding,
  • Expertise: with business consultants and mentors who can help draft and review business, marketing and operations strategies and plan and
  • Social capital: by offering networking opportunities and introductions to key business allies.

They are designed for 2-5 years of participation and the incubators charge either a monthly fee or a percentage of ownership (many times in the range of 20 – 50%).

There’s very little research and scant results to show the effectiveness of incubators. Few begin their incubator-incubatee relationship with measures, goals and timetables for success.

Conflict of interest when incubators are pushing decisions that support their investment but may not be good for the business’ hopes for long-term growth. Many incubators do not utilize the resources afforded to businesses in the new economy (cheap, fast internet; virtual offices, lean staffing, web delivery) and my offer too much structure, preventing business owners from developing fully as entrepreneurs.

Networking, coaching and mentoring are weak, with the client driving much of the interaction without the proper training to get the most out of these relationships. Also the “coaches” are often untrained consultants who have little skill in helping entrepreneurs challenge their thinking and reshape the personal and professional habits that may hinder business growth.

Good incubators are out there. However, business owners must have good insights regarding their needs and must be able to insist on a set of services that would best support them rather than taking a pre-determined set of services that may not fully support their specific development areas.

Further Reading:

Indy Nite Ride -- where one ne'er-do-well podcaster spent a Saturday night!

Duration: 29 minutes, 28 seconds File Size: 7.07 MB

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Go Back...Give Back

I'm standing at an online kiosk at Purdue University's Black Cultural Center, having just finished up lunch with the BCC's director, Renee Thomas. I had committed resources from my family back to Purdue and was meeting with her to see what she needed from me in terms of time, energy, money and/or effort. Her response: all of them (that's why she's got that job!).

We talked about how things used to be. We talked about how things are and we talked about her vision for students at Purdue and the impact of the BCC on their lives and futures. What, I think, makes Renee the powerhouse that she is, is that her vision, embraces everyone rather than focusing narrowly. She knows that we're interconnected and that the lives of the Black students she serves will impact the lives of the citizenry of the world. Great work, given that she heads one of the premier Black Cultural Centers on any college campus anywhere.

She reminded me of why I came to Purdue: to get a universal education.

I shared with her about a trip I took to Namibia, one of the countries under the apartheid regime. I'd traveled there shortly after liberation and found myself very surprised by the reception I'd gotten. Everyone who'd been to college anywhere in the world knew of Purdue University (sometimes called the "Harvard in the cornfields" -- sigh). Every university I visited offered me a faculty position.

I didn't know what I had.

In the book, The One Minute Millionaire (yeah, another of the "you, too, can be a millionaire series of books that proliferated the market a few years ago that only made millionaires of the authors), suggested that we "tithe where we're spiritually fed." I've found myself thinking about that one line in that book over and over in the past several years. I'm not a church-goer, so I had to challenge myself to find places that had fed me so I could "pony-up." I gave to the churches of my friends, I'm made anonymous donations to temples and other religious organizations. I gave money to charitable groups.

And then I remembered: Purdue, with all of the good (a world class education) and the not-so-good (an attempted cross burning my freshman year) was the place where I'd really been fed. I found my husband there. My best friend, Carol, I met at Purdue (she was holding a sledgehammer and tearing into some old sidewalk on a weekend student event). My mother and I were students there and graduated a semester apart. I'd learned to become so bold that I'd start my own company (OK, bold and crazy!) and travel the world.

It's not a lot by Warren Buffet's standards that I give. The point is that I do. What surprised me was the warmth of Purdue's embrace back to me. But that's not why I gave.

I gave back for that one person who would find their life's mate or study late into the night with a family member or travel and be proud of who they've become.

See what you can do... and then do it!


Friday, July 14, 2006

LNB #015: Say You're Sorry!

You screwed up. It happens. Now, how to you go about cleaning it up while maintaining great relationships with customers, vendors, suppliers, partners and employees?

Screwing up, in itself, is less impactful than trying to "step over" a mistake or broken biz promise. This has lingering effects on our relationships and our ability to focus (tap dancing around a broken deadline can reduce your ability to do your best work).
Triune Brain:

  • Reptilian brain: oldest portion. Designed for survival and reproduction
  • Limbic brain: designed for feeling and emoting
  • Cortex: newest portion. The highest thinking part of the brain

How to Get an Apology Done:

  • Acknowledge what happened (tell the truth)
  • Acknowledge the impact on them
  • Explain what happened (only if you know what you needed to fix)
  • Explain that you're willing to make it right
  • Make an offer to make it right
  • Ask if this fits the bill and does, in fact, make it right (Note: shut up and listen.
  • Don't put your reptilian brain on "speakerphone."
  • Ask them if they will accept your apology.

Read Seth Godin's The Big Moo: Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkablefor ideas on how to remarkabilisize (I didn't make this up) your business.

Listen to NPR's Marketplace report, "Prescription for Doctors: Admit Your Mistakes."

Duration: 30:33 File size: 7.33 MB

MP3 File

Monday, July 10, 2006

Craig's List Sued Over Housing Ads Content

Craig's List has been sued over discriminatory postings made by some of its members. Does Craig's List's woes impact your internet-based business? Listen to Ari Shapiro's NPR report and send in your comments

Note: This content may require the latest RealPlayer, which is not available on Windows 95, Mac OS9 or Linux systems.

Friday, July 07, 2006

LNB #014: Think Outside That Box, Then Burn It!

I'm wrapping up the business week here at Net Heads (, which is not your father's internet cafe (no high priced burnt coffee here!). Interesting people, snack-style foods (the manager reminded me that the geeks made the food - hmmm....) and bandwidth to burn. They also had B-Movie icon, Bruce Campbell (well-known for his starring role as Ash in the Evil Dead trilogy) here the other week (missed it, damn!).

What I really love about this place is that they created a business model that combined money and passion (internet gaming, chat, movies, business workers, learning) -- they knew that conventional wisdom about this business would put them in a box, and they happily snickered at it when they put this place together several years ago.

See, we all know that the chance of new business success is pretty dismal: one in nine. We know many of the key factors for business failure:

  • Lack of planning
  • Lack of adequate capital (cash reserves)
  • Poor marketing
  • Bad staffing (sometimes including having the owners running the business)
    and the list goes on.

But, there are those business endeavors that start out right: seemingly armed with all the necessary tools for success, but they still fail. What gives? The common human condition is that our thinking is more conventional than we know. The challenge of that reality is to stay ahead as the business landscape changes. Its what we think we know that gets in our way. We operate with a certain set of business and life "facts," forgetting that they're sometimes just a collection of most-used premises, and not set in concrete.

There's the story I tell about the matriarch who was known for great Sunday hams (I don't eat pork, but follow me anyway). She was also known for cutting off the ends of those hams before baking them and, to ensure success, each new generation of cooks followed her example. On her 80th birthday, they asked her why she cut off the ends of all those hams. They leaned in to hear her soft reply (like the drama?): "My pan was too small." They'd been following a formula for generations they neither needed nor understood.

Question is: Where are we "cutting off the ends of the hams?" It could be in the way we deal with our customers or with a belief that we have to have our website look a certain way.

Kelly, a technical writer, told me when we first met, that no one could make money as a coach. She wanted to hire me to help her build her business (a coaching business). But with that mindset, the only thing that was in the way for was her own belief that it couldn't happen. Truth was, the way she took on building her business was designed to prove her right. Her struggle was epic and very painful to watch.

Brian, an attorney, believed that he couldn't not answer a customer phone call, even when he was heading out the door for a court appointment. He couldn't see any other way to deal with phone calls and was increasingly late for court appointments. Challenging him that he could answer the phone and be on time, he created a system where he gathered up his court materials an hour before he had to leave and then transferred his desk phone to his cell phone. He could pick up the phone if he needed to without having to rush off to make his court date, satisfying both needs without sacrificing his customer relationship.

Getting outside the box is one thing: staying the hairy-heck out of it is quite another. Let me spin out some options – some free and other costing cash. You can

Duration: 20:58 File Size: 5.03 MB

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

I Have a Confession to Make...

My husband, Garland, refers to me as "Inspector Gadget" and for a micro-enterprise business owner, I have to confess: It's true.

I've got the Gadget phone (a kyocera smartphone), the Gadget computer (an HP Pavilion that does it all), and so you don't think this is limited to my business, I've got the the Gadget breadmaker, which suffered a tragic meltdown recently (let us pause for a moment of silence) , the Gadget George Foreman get the point.

Proudly, I say to you that I use them all, but here's something interesting I noticed about myself: when I'm creating or trying to capture notes on the fly, I use pencil and paper. I had a smartphone and the best little laptop computer in the world, but I have to tell you that I'm hooked on these smart little notebooks. My favorite is pocket-sized and I carry it with me, tucked in my bag for those times when I just have seconds to jot down a note (or don't want to be caught tryping to graffiti a note into my"K"?!).

This one comes with a charming story (it was the notebook of choice for Hemingway and Picasso) and its beautiful. Sleek, simple and small. While you're reading it, think about a habit you have which might seem counter -intuitive, but it highly effective. Find one and make good friends with it.

Moleskine Small Ruled Notebook - The Legendary Notebook of Hemingway, Picasso, and Chatwin - Moleskin Blank Book Journal Imported From Italy


This trusty, pocket-size travel companion held sketches,notes, stories and ideas before they were turned into famous images or ages of beloved books.

Originally produced by small French bookbinders who supplied the Parisian stationery shops frequented by the international avant-garde, by the end of the twentieth century the Moleskine notebook was no longer available. In 1986, the last manufacturer of Moleskine, a family operation in Tours, closed its shutters forever.

“Le vrai Moleskine n’est plus” were the lapidary words of the owner of
the stationery shop in Rue de l’Ancienne Com├ędie where Chatwin stocked up on the notebooks. The English writer had ordered a hundred of them before leaving for Australia: he bought up all the Moleskine that he could find, but they were not enough.

In 1998, a small Milanese publisher brought Moleskine back again. As the self-effacing keeper of an extraordinary tradition, Moleskine once again began to travel the globe.To capture reality on the move, pin down details, impress upon paper unique aspects of experience: Moleskine is a reservoir of ideas and feelings, a battery that stores discoveries and perceptions, and whose energy can be tapped over time.

The legendary black notebook is once again being passed from one pocket to the next; with its various different pagestyles it accompanies the creative professions and the imagination of our time. The adventure of Moleskine continues, and its still-blank pages will tell the rest.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What (Comedian) Jackie Mason Says about Starbucks

I resisted getting a copy of Starbucks President, Howard Schultz' new book Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. Seems PT Barnum (a business maven from another time who was one-half of the Barnum and Bailey Circus) summed up his business model with his own: "There's a sucker born every minute, and you are right on time."

As I sit at the health club, feeling smug about my cheap cup of Joe (I'm not a coffee drinker, so this isn't going to go well), I read this funny take on the Starbuck phenom.

You want coffee in a coffee shop, that's 60 cents. But at Starbucks, Cafe Latte: $3.50. Cafe Creamier: $4.50. Cafe Suisse: $9.50. For each French word, another four dollars.

Why does a little cream in coffee make it worth $3.50? Go into any coffee shop; they'll give you all the cream you want until you're blue in the face. Forty million people are walking around in coffee shops with jars of cream: "Here's all the cream you want!". And it's still 60 cents. You know why? Because it's called "coffee." If it's Cafe Latte -- $4.50.

You want cinnamon in your coffee? Ask for cinnamon in a coffee shop; they'll give you all the cinnamon you want. Do they ask you for more money because it's Cinnamon? It's the same price for cinnamon in your coffee, ask for coffee without cinnamon - 60 cents! that's it! But not in Starbucks. Over there, it's Cinnamonnier - $9.50.

You want a refill in a regular coffee shop, they'll give you all the refills you want until you drop dead. You can come in when you're 27 and keep drinking coffee until you're 98. And they'll start begging you: "Here, you want more coffee, you want more, you want more?"

Do you know that you can't get a refill at Starbucks? A refill is a dollar fifty. Two refills, $4.50. Three refills, $19.50. So, for four cups of coffee - $35.00. And it's burnt coffee. It's burnt coffee at Starbucks, let's be honest about it. If you get burnt coffee in a coffee shop, you call a cop. You say, "It's the bottom of the pot. I don't drink from the bottom of the pot." But when it's burnt at Starbucks, they say, "Oh, it's a Blend. It's a blend. It's a special bean from Argentina...." The bean is in your head.

Do you remember what a cafeteria was? In poor neighborhoods all over this country, they went to a cafeteria because there were no waiters and no service. And so poor people could save money on a tip. Cafeterias didn't have regular tables or chairs either. They gave coffee to you in a cardboard cup. So because of that you paid less for the coffee. You got less, so you paid less. It's all the same at Starbucks, no chairs, no service, a cardboard cup for your coffee - except in Starbucks, the less you get, the more it costs. By the time they give you nothing, it's worth four times as much. Am I exaggerating?

Did you ever try to buy a cookie in Starbucks? Buy a cookie in a regular coffee shop. You can tear down a building with that cookie. And the whole cookie is 60 cents. At Starbucks, you're going to have to hire a detective to find that cookie, and it's $9.50. And you can't put butter on it because they want extra.

They don't give it to you. They tell you where it is. "Oh, you want butter? It's over there. Cream cheese? Over here. Sugar? Sugar is here." Now you become your own waiter.

You walk around with a tray. "I'll take the cookie. Where's the butter? The butter's here. Where's the cream cheese? The cream cheese is there." You walked around for an hour and a half selecting items, and then the guy at the cash register has a glass in front of him that says "Tips." You're waiting on tables for an hour, and you owe him money? Then there's a sign that says please clean it up when you're finished.

They don't give you a waiter or a busboy. Now you've become the janitor. Now you have to start cleaning up the place.

If I said to you, "I have a great idea for a business. I'll open a whole new type of a coffee shop. A whole new type. Instead of 60 cents for coffee I'll charge $2.50, $3.50, $4.50, and $5.50. Not only that, I'll have no tables, no chairs, no water, no busboy, and you'll clean it up for 20 minutes after you're finished."

Would you say to me, "That's the greatest idea for a business I ever heard! We can open a chain of these all over the world!"

No, you would put me right into a sanitarium.

Get a Mac - Get an iLife

Have you noticed this new ad series by Apple? They're appealing to an interesting combo of lifestyle and functionality, focusing on the hip, trendy, grande-skinny-mocha-frappa-whozit crowd.