Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

RSS
Jan
29

Richard Hammond’s 300MPH Crash Video

In a previous post, I discussed the British television show, Top Gear, and the unfortunate accident that took place when one of the show’s hosts, Richard Hammond, crashed a 10,000HP (yup, 10 with three zeroes), jet-powered car at, roughly, 288MPH.  Ouch!

Hammond who was doing “one last run,” had already broken the British land speed record in a previous run that day at 314MPH.  After the crash and fairly long residence in the hospital, Hammond recalled that he “just wanted to go fast.”  Apparently, 314MPH just didn’t qualify . . .

Below is the post-crash, post-hospitalization interview with Hammond.  The interview is from a recent Top Gear episode.  It’s a bit long (12:20), but if you skip around, you can see all the exhilarating runs and the frightening crash.

Using an RSS Reader?  Try http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=830929109569151280&hl=en-GB

Thanks Jalopnik.

Technorati tags: ,

 January 29th, 2007  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 Comments Off on Richard Hammond’s 300MPH Crash Video
Jan
28

Inside the Minds of Your Employees

There is an interesting article in today’s New York Times (registration required, I believe) that asks the question; do organizations really know what their employees think about their jobs and work environment?  Not surprisingly, the answer is, no, for the most part they don’t.

“Some 86 percent of the 262 employers in a study by Watson Wyatt, the consulting firm, said they believed that their organization was treating employees well, and more than half expected to do a better job of treating employees well in the future. But only 55 percent of the 1,100 employees in the study believed they were well treated, and just 24 percent thought they would be treated better in the future.”

As the article points out, the primary cause of this disconnect is very simply a lack of communication.  Most companies don’t make the effort or, at the very least, an appropriate effort to find out what is important to their employees.  This is not to say that companies aren’t trying to do things to make their employees happy – although this is sometimes the case – but it often means that they are doing the wrong things.

An example of this is a company that continues to offer free daycare to an aging population of employees that no longer requires or appreciates the service.  It costs the company a lot of money and delivers no benefit as perceived by the employees.  Of course, a modicum of thought could easily deal with this specific problem, but other problems (opportunities?) are less obvious – sometimes involving subtle differences between the value of pay increases versus the addition or change of benefits.

How does one root out what’s going on?  The old fashioned way . . . ask.  Sure, it’s sometimes difficult to get straight answers, but if you ask often enough, eventually well-thought out responses begin to flow.  Why waste time and money on programs that end up failing to achieve their goals?

The subject of this article and its conclusions only refer to hygiene factors in management, not motivation.  Motivation is a much more difficult beast to slay and asking rarely gets you very far in doing so.  Nonetheless, optimizing hygiene factors is critical to running a productive organization and, like many management solutions, can be pretty much taken care of with a high levels of communication.

 

Technorati tags: , ,

 January 28th, 2007  
 Will  
 Management  
   
 Comments Off on Inside the Minds of Your Employees
Jan
27

DOD’s New Heat-Beam Weapon – How to Get Rid of Those Pesky Neighborhood Kids

The US Department of Defense just announced that its new “Heat-Beam,” non-lethal weapon will be available for use as early as 2010.  Apparently, this weapon can raise skin temperature to over 130 degrees from a distance of almost two football fields.  The evil-doer that is subjected to the beam feels a blast, like from a hot oven, that is a bit, say, uncomfortable.

From the announcement . . .

“Existing counter-personnel systems designed not to kill—including bean bag munitions and rubber bullets—work at little more than ‘rock-throwing distances,’ said Marine Col. Kirk Hymes, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.”

It’s good to know that the Pentagon has a “Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.”  I’d hate to think that all that money is wasted on just lethal weapons.

“The weapon, mounted on a Humvee, uses a large rectangular dish antenna to direct an invisible beam toward a target. It includes a high-voltage power unit and beam-generating equipment and is effective at more than 500 meters.”

High-voltage?  Duh!  They must be using Dr. Emmit Brown’s flux capacitor to get the jigowatts of power required.

“Documents given out during the demonstration said more than 10,000 people had been exposed to the weapon since testing began more than 12 years ago. They said there had been no injuries requiring medical attention during the five-year advanced development program.”

So, what other kinds of injuries took place?

There’s part of me that would love to work at a DOD research facility.  If this is the stuff that comes out, I’d be interested in what doesn’t make it past the research phase.  My imagination just isn’t broad enough.

 January 27th, 2007  
 Will  
 Gadgets  
   
 Comments Off on DOD’s New Heat-Beam Weapon – How to Get Rid of Those Pesky Neighborhood Kids
Jan
22

And Then There Were Two – Colts Take the AFC Championship

While certainly a tough game for Patriot fans, the AFC Championship was a great overall football game.  The Patriots dominated in the first half, giving Pats fans all too much hope for victory.  The Colts dominated (even more) in the second half, though, overcoming a big deficit to take their rightful place in the big game in Miami.

The difference ended up being home field advantage – a small point spread with the visitors having to travel two weeks back-to-back.  As a fan, I want desperately to find the one key to the loss.  In the end, though, there really wasn’t one (well, if Reche Caldwell had just caught the ball thrown right into his arms . . . ).  I used to believe that the Pats were the best team after the half.  Bill Belichick had the secret decoder ring of first half action and, as a result, the Pats always played better than their opponents in the second half.  For whatever reason, this is not true any more.  Tony Dungy decoded the Pats, changed the game plan and won the game. 

I’m disappointed (well, maybe that’s an understatement, I hardly slept last night) for sure, and while I’d rather being seeing Tom Brady leading his team in Miami, it’ll still be good to see Payton Manning in his first Super Bowl.  He’s a great quarterback and certainly deserves to play in the big game.

Thanks for a great season, Patriots.  I had a blast.

 January 22nd, 2007  
 Will  
 Patriots  
   
 6 Comments
Jan
21

Google’s Plan for World (Or, at Least, Its Communication and Entertainment Infrastructure) Domination

This week’s I, Cringely column, “When Being a Verb is Not Enough: Google wants to be YOUR Internet,” is a must read.  While Google’s desire to acquire the dark fiber in the US is fairly well covered in the blogosphere, what they plan on doing with it is subject to a tremendous amount of speculation.  While this column certainly continues with speculation to some extent, a few new and significant (to me, anyway) facts are brought to life which begin to paint a very big and interesting picture.  From the column:

“…Google will become our phone company, our cable company, our stereo system and our digital video recorder. Soon we won’t be able to live without Google, which will have marginalized the ISPs and assumed most of the market capitalization of all the service providers it has undermined — about $1 trillion in all — which places today’s $500 Google share price about eight times too low.”

Wow.  Interesting and a tad bit scary.  Use your power for good, my son . . .

Check it out.

Technorati: , ,

 January 21st, 2007  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 Comments Off on Google’s Plan for World (Or, at Least, Its Communication and Entertainment Infrastructure) Domination
Jan
21

No Surprises

As a CEO, almost nothing drove me crazier than being surprised.  And I don’t only mean being surprised by bad news, I mean being surprised by good news as well.  That latter part may sound a bit absurd and I can promise you that hypocritically, my reaction to good surprises was never as negative as my reaction to bad ones.  Further, there were plenty of times, when things weren’t looking particularly good that I prayed to be shocked with an upside surprise or two.  Nevertheless, the reason I have such disdain for surprises is that I strongly believe that being surprised by something happening in your business is often indicative of not knowing what’s going on or not having thought through the likely outcomes of your actions.  It’s ignorance which, in my mind, is inexcusable in business.

Surprises will happen, of course.  Unless you run your business in the most conservative fashion, no one has the ability to predict everything that can take place.  As a manager at any level, though, you should focus on trying to reduce the number of surprises that occur in your organization.  If you do so, your organization will move faster, respond better and work more fluidly.

In order to minimize surprises in your business it’s important to understand the root causes of most of them – people don’t know what’s going on or they know, but for one of several reasons, they don’t act on or communicate the information.  The former problem is basic; training or replacement will fix it.  The latter problem is more complex and has to do with politics and power.

There are three primary reasons why people don’t pass on information:

  • They’re afraid of the reaction they’re going to get from the person they’re delivering it to
  • Information is perceived as power, which they want to hold on to
  • They want to get credit for the information so they only deliver it to certain people at at certain times

Fear of the reaction

Some managers shoot the messenger, whether they’re responsible for the surprise or not.  If the manager does this enough times, the entire organization gets trained to shut up and keep things to themselves.  For the most part, information, especially if received in time enough to do something about it but in any case, should always be appreciated.  Good news, cherished and bad news, gratefully acknowledged.  If a manager creates an open environment where people feel that they are encouraged to speak up, more information will be available to base decisions on and the organization will work more smoothly.

Information is power

This one drives me into a homicidal rage.  There are those in almost any reasonably sized organization that want to use information to maximize their power and influence.  Perhaps they hold back information from certain individuals so that it can be revealed in a public forum with the boss.  Perhaps they keep such information in their pocket as a “told you so” when the shit hits the fan.  Whatever the reason, it’s bad and managers have stomp it out quickly and publicly.

To make matters worse, managers often implicitly reward the bearer of withheld information by focusing on the value of the information and ignoring the process by which it was revealed.  If a manager does this frequently, he’ll/she’ll just encourage others to do the same.  This pattern becomes very difficult to reverse. 

In an organization, knowledge itself should never create power.  The dissemination of it, should.

I want to be a hero

Similar to using information as power, some people hold on to information to be more visible or to save the day.  This can happen in any area of the company where a solution, relationship, sale, bug fix, customer contact, service completion or whatever, is revealed late in the process in order for the hero to appear as a savior of the period.  It’s difficult, of course, when such an action actually does pull the corporate ass out of the frying pan to keep from celebrating such a disclosure and the bearer of it.  A good manager has to, though.  Rewarding and, therefore, encouraging such behavior will only perpetuate the desire for people to hold back information to be a hero themselves.

 

Surprises happen when people in an organization don’t have information or don’t communicate it to the appropriate people.  In either case, the manager needs to stay on top of the problem and constantly be searching for ways to make sure that all possible knowledge of what’s going on pertaining to the business is understood and communicated in an open environment.  Only then can the business’ execution start to be optimized.

 January 21st, 2007  
 Will  
 Management  
   
 2 Comments
Jan
18

Questioning Your Marketing Efforts and Abilities

As you’ve undoubtedly read a thousand times in the reams of pages of management books that you’ve consumed, it’s vitally important that when you build your management team, you don’t just pick good people, but instead, pick good people whose skills fill in for weaknesses in the team.  For this reason, the first person I look to add to any team that I’m on is a marketing person.

Try as I might, I can’t create marketing.  As every marketing person who has ever worked for me knows, though, once a marketing idea is brought forth or a program created, I have no trouble analyzing it and expressing my opinions about it.  Sometimes my analysis even has value.  I believe that I know good marketing when I see it.  Witnessing good marketing for me is an experience similar to what I have when in a gallery or art museum, I appreciate the beautiful works, fully recognizing that I struggle drawing a legible stick figure when playing hang-man.

I rationalize that one doesn’t have to have the ability to do something to appreciate the skill and beauty demonstrated when someone else does it.  Yet, as a business person and entrepreneur, I can’t quite get over why I suck so badly at marketing.

Rob over at Businesspundit, whose marketing ideas I find fascinating, has a terrific post titled, Marketing is Math: A Heretic Questions the Gods of Grassroots, Viral Messages and Sacred Purple Cows.  In his post, Rob exposes several marketing myths and popular errors.  While Rob doesn’t know me, I felt that he was shining a light on several of the reasons why I make the same marketing mistakes again and again.  This thought from his post, in particular, rang true for me:

“The first crack in the foundation of my marketing apotheosis came when my partner and I decided to advertise in a local business publication. It was expensive to advertise, but we both read it, so we assumed that other people like us read it as well. We committed a major chunk of our budget to a series of ads that ended up landing us… a single phone call. It was time to regroup. I had learned my first lesson – everyone’s behavior isn’t like mine. To this day it’s the hardest thing to do – to keep that in mind when I pursue new ideas. What I like, what my friends like, what my family likes, may end up being irrelevant.”

Doh!  You mean that not everyone likes what I like and thinks like me?  No wonder I can’t come up with a reasonable marketing program that attracts other people.

Rob ends his post explaining the mathematics of marketing.  In doing so, he gave me hope that a quantitative, left-brained guy like me can retain some hope that I’ll one day understand the art of marketing.  If you’re wondering why your current programs aren’t working or you’re betting the ranch on viral marketing, this post and the others on Businesspundit are definitely worth a look.

Technorati: ,

 January 18th, 2007  
 Will  
 Marketing  
   
 Comments Off on Questioning Your Marketing Efforts and Abilities
Jan
14

Pats Go to the AFC Championship

Who woulda thunk it?  A 24-21 victory over the best team in the NFL.  I thought the Pats had a chance, but believed that a loss for New England was the likely outcome of the game.  As it turns out, though, the Patriots came to play today, especially the defense.  San Diego has better players as a whole, but the Patriots are better coached and that came through in this game.  It’s not a huge surprise that Marty Schottenheimer has never been to the big game, even though he’s won so many regular season games as a coach.

New England made almost all of the big plays in today’s game.  Antonio Gates was almost a non-factor and Matt Light took the threat of Shawne Merriman away.  Ladainian Tomlinson was incredible as always, but never broke any huge ones loose.  Tom Brady didn’t look very good, but the Pats were executing on so many cylinders, the rest of the team’s play made up for it. 

It was close, though, and any one of several key plays going the other way, including Schottenheimer’s throwing the red flag on what was an obvious turnover, would have changed the result of the game.

I thought that New England’s play during the regular season was less than stellar.  They still found ways to win most games though (12-4 record).  In the playoffs, they seem to have hit their stride.  Hopefully, they have enough horsepower to take down Indy and win the big game.  Certainly, Indianapolis is going to be tough, especially on their own turf.

 January 14th, 2007  
 Will  
 Patriots  
   
 Comments Off on Pats Go to the AFC Championship
Jan
13

The Leadership Power of Great Public Speaking

This week, Steve Jobs did his MacWorld song and dance.  While he delivers his message to an eager and receptive audience, there’s no question that his mastery of public speaking helps promote his message and causes even those who aren’t Apple zealots to take notice.  I’d hazard a guess that this skill is also a huge arrow in his leadership quiver inside of Apple Computer.

It’s rare to find great leaders that can’t speak to a crowd and get them to follow or at least riled up about what they are promoting.  I’m sure there are cases where introverted, soft-spoken leaders have been successful, but most often, the ability to speak well to an audience is a required skill in successfully leading groups larger than a few dozen people.  Unabashedly promoting one’s organization and, often, oneself, is just a fundamental skill that anyone who is now a leader or wishes to be one must learn.  The good news is that it can be learned.

At this week’s Needham Growth Conference, I attended roughly 25 presentations by companies – both private and public.  There were some poor speakers, some mediocre and a few really good ones.  As you might expect, the quality of each presentation had little to do with its content.  There were great presentations by CEOs of companies dealing with a boat load of stock option issues, their stock in the toilet, and there were crappy presentations from squeaky clean companies growing 300% year-over-year. 

Generally speaking, the boring speakers lost their audiences, physically or mentally, by the time they reached the halfway point of their speech.  The great speakers held their audience and were surrounded by people that wanted private time with them after their presentation.  Good speakers walked away with dozens of business cards from potential investors and poor ones ate lunch by themselves.  See a pattern here?

I’ve said before, that I believe that leadership and management are separate disciplines.  If being or becoming a good leader is the goal you seek, practice being a good speaker (yes, it requires practice), prepare (a lot) before you speak, have something meaningful to say and ban timidity (but not humility) from your presentations.  Use the force, Luke.

 January 13th, 2007  
 Will  
 Leadership, Management  
   
 5 Comments
Jan
11

Me and Chuck Darwin

Galapagos Islands Map Courtesy of Wikipedia 

I spent the better part of the last two weeks of 2006 traveling throughout the Galapagos archipelago with my family.  It’s a trip that my wife and I have wanted to do for years, but only convinced our teenage kids that it could be fun as well as educational late in 2005 – it’s a good trip to plan well in advance.

I had high expectations for the trip, having read extensively about the area and it’s history – geological as well as biological.  I was not in any way disappointed.  This is simply a unique and fantastic part of the world that the Ecuadorian government is working hard to keep in its most natural, pristine form.  All the naturalists that accompany visitors on the islands are locals who go through a formal, government-controlled educational process.  In our experience, they are highly knowledgeable and truly care for the land that they are custodians of.  Visitors must be accompanied by naturalists when visiting almost all of the islands.  Good thing, too, since there is something new and amazing to capture one’s interest and needs some form of explanation every 15 feet or so.

The most shocking part of the experience, even if you fully expect it, is the complete lack of fear the wildlife shows for the human visitors.  Kneeling in front of a marine iguana and staring at it in the face does nothing to perturb the animal; visitors have to routinely step over seal lions that litter the paths; and penguins (yup, I said penguins) are as likely to step on your feet as you are to step on theirs.  On visits to certain islands, visitors have to spend much of their time looking a few inches in front of where they are walking to make sure that they don’t tread on naturally-selected, well-camouflaged beasts hidden in the rocks on their path.

Just fantastic and highly recommended.  You won’t be disappointed.

Being a photography geek (note that I did not say photographer), I took about 35 pounds of photographic equipment.  I shot something like 2300 pictures during our time there and I have yet to do any processing of the pictures.  I did weed the set down to about 1300 digital snaps so far, though.  You can take a look at the non-Photoshopped pix here, if you’re interested.  Most of them need, at the very least, some sharpening, but you can certainly get an idea of what’s going on in the Galapagos from them.

Photographing the Galapagos Islands

If you’re interested in photography, want to read some recommendations on what to bring and how to shoot in the Islands or simply wonder what equipment I could possibly stuff into a 35 pound photography backpack, read on . . .

Here’s the equipment I brought with me:

  • Canon 5D – full-frame, 12MP, digital SLR
  • Canon 70-200 f2.8L image stabilization zoom lens
  • Canon 28-70 f2.8L zoom lens
  • Canon 2x extender (costs me two stops)
  • Canon 70-300 f4-f5.6 image stabilization zoom lens
  • Monopod
  • Miscellaneous batteries/chargers and compact flash memory cards

In the end, this setup was NOT ideal, although it worked.  In 35mm equivalents, you need 70-400mm in focal length to shoot everything you want, in my opinion.  Of course, this is hard to get in a single lens.  You can get a lot closer than I did, though.  I generally got off the boat every day with the 70-200mm mounted on the camera WITH the extender.  Giving me 140-400mm zoom range in 35mm equivalents (note, the 5D is a full-frame sensor so I don’t have a cropping multiple).  Most of my shots were taken with this configuration, but I often had to do a quick change to either remove the extender (getting me down to 70-200mm) or put on the wide(r) angle lens (getting me as wide as 28mm).  This would have worked fine, except that,

  1. the environment is often pretty dusty and even with my best efforts to protect everything, crap found its way onto my sensor and,
  2. just because the wildlife isn’t afraid of you doesn’t mean that it sits still waiting for you to ready your shot.

I guy that I often spent time with on the trip had an unusual 35-300mm lens (he was shooting with a Canon 10D – with it’s 1.6 cropping multiplier, his 35mm equivalent focal length was 56-480mm).  While he gave up some speed to my setup, he could quickly get shots that I often missed.  Additionally, since he never removed his lens from his camera body, he never had to deal with foreign objects making the camera’s sensor their new home.  Since the Archipelago is at the equator, there is usually plenty of light.  Sacrificing a few stops of lens speed is a non-issue when you consider the additional shots you can get.

I shot all the pictures as JPEGs.  I was tempted to shoot in RAW mode, but felt that the loss of speed (in frames per second) would keep me from getting some of the action shots (e.g. birds flying or diving) that I wanted.  I don’t think I’ll regret this decision.  Besides, I’ll probably never get around to processing all the pictures as JPEGs.  Having to process that many RAW pictures might take me a lifetime.

Finally, I need to say something about the IS lenses that I brought.  I purchased the 70-200mm IS lens for this trip (it replaced a non-IS f2.8L 70-200mm Canon lens that I’ve had for years).  This lens is great!  The documentation says that the image stabilization can make up for two full stops of lens speed.  I completely believe it.  I often took completely clear handheld shots with this lens at full zoom WITH the extender on (400mm).  Because it was so good, I stopped carrying my monopod.  It was a great upgrade and will become my standard, everyday lens.

 January 11th, 2007  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts, Photography  
   
 Comments Off on Me and Chuck Darwin