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Is this too formal?

We live in interesting times where the traditions of the past are more quickly becoming the traditions of the past. Things change so fast but some things don’t.

Each of us has certain conceptions of what is appropriate in a given situation. Most of us would not show up to an interview in shorts and a t-shirt but do you need to where a three-piece suit and tie.  When crafting an email to an executive the message should generally focus on being clear and concise but does that mean you need to include a formal salutation and sign-off?

I still see many different perspectives on formalism and I think the answer is relatively simple:

1. Understand the situation: This is pretty common sense but think about your situation. Are you in a job interview? Are you talking to college students on a college campus?  Do you know the reputation of the person you are meeting with? What is the reputation of the person you are communicating with? What are other people doing in a similar situation? The more important the conversation, meeting or presentation is the more you should really seek out an understanding of the situation.

2. Adapt:  You want to relate to your audience and be context appropriate no matter if it is a sales call, job interview, formal presentation, or fundraising. So once you understand the situation then adapt. You might not like to wear a suit and you might think it is not your image but do you want the job or do you want the audience to respect you. On the other hand you might have your input discounted if you seem too formal and your audience does not relate.

3. When in doubt, be a traditionalist: I am always a believer that when in doubt edge on the side of formalism. Whether it is dress or communication style, being formal if in doubt usually will not penalize you. However, not being formal enough will still often penalize you.

BTW — my preference is to be less formal if you are seeking me out and looking to understand my preference.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

About WorkLearnPlay: WorkLearnPlay.com is about helping information workers live better lives and supercharge their success in the workplace. Please let me know how I can continue to make this site better and help you and others supercharge your success.

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Don’t let sunk costs sink you

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A popular term in economics, accounting, and finance is “sunk costs” which basically means costs that have already been spent. These costs may be from software purchased, processes redesigned, machines purchased, consultants hired, etc. Whatever the costs are it has been spent and there is no getting it back.

Instead of looking at what has been spent you need to do a fresh analysis right now to determine what decision you would make looking at things are fresh. This might mean going a completely different direction in software or equipment used.

Of course there are political dynamics here because somebody made that decision to spend money previously and if the course changes there are always questions that arise and there are people that will defend actions. In a later post we will discuss this and other potential things to take into account when making decisions counter to past decisions.

The following are things to remember when making a decision that could be impacted by “sunk costs”:

  • Analyze fresh: Remember sunk costs are just that – sunk. Do not include them in your calculations and make fresh decisions whether it is on changing a process, software, or hardware.
  • Do not get emotional: Avoid that emotional tug you and others may have to feel bad about money and time previously spent. Getting someone involved that does not have emotional baggage on the particular item is best.
  • Understand history: Oftentimes new people come into a department and are quick to find things that are “wrong” and should be changed. Getting fresh perspective is vital. However, understanding history and why decisions were previously made will help you ensure your new analysis takes into account all needed items into the calculation at hand.

It is important that you as an individual contributor or leader understand sunk costs and how to take a fresh lens to a problem and ignore these sunk costs in making good decisions will ensure that sunk costs do not sink you.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

photo credit: *Amanda Richards via photopin cc

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The real correlation vs. causation difference

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No matter what your role as an information worker – data matters. Data helps us understand our customers, health, friends, family, profitability, employees and the list goes on and on. As the world continues to have more computers, cameras, and sensors we will continue to have more data and have a better opportunity to either improve the quality of life or the alternative.

At one time executives had to be sold into the value of data driven decisioning versus their gut. These days that is less of a problem. Now the challenge is to not get lost in the data and making the wrong interpretation. As we all know the phrase “lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

A common confusion is the difference between causation and correlation. Things are correlated if two things have a mutual relationship between them. This can be a positive or negative correlation. Something can be correlated but not caused by something else and this is often the case. An example could be decreased meat sales correlated to declining home prices. Instead an economic downturn negatively caused both of these.

Things are caused if one thing causes another thing to change in a positive or negative direction. For example, you increase product sales when you increase Facebook ad spends. If you understand one thing causes another then you can act on that one thing and be confident that the other thing will be impacted accordingly.

People are quick to think that because things are correlated that one thing causes the other. Making decisions on things that are correlated but not caused by can lead to bad results. However, it does give us a starting point where we can do testing whether it is A/B testing if software or other testing to determine if one thing is indeed caused by another thing or if they are merely correlated.

The other item to be aware about is that there are varying degrees of causation and correlation. Generally causation or correlation do not have a one-to-one relationship. Sometimes this relationship can be greater than one-to-one but often times it is less.

WLP Tip No. 5: Next time you read the results of a study or setup your own research study make sure you identify if the results represent causation or are merely correlation and additional research is needed to determine causation.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Avoid bad people habits

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One of the things we hear a lot when growing up is to give people the benefit of the doubt but as we get older we see the same things happening again and again and the natural thing is to classify, judge and stereotype situations quickly. After all doing this is efficient and over the years often times your classifications, judgments, and stereotypes turned out right after all.

Successful people certainly learn from past experiences. But, they also realize it is dangerous to quickly dismiss people based on how a person dresses, initial conversation, or based on one person’s assessment. There are a number of things to be aware to avoid and this will help you in ensuring that you have good people habits.

Four things to avoid include the following:

  1. First impression: Be careful of first impressions with people. Do not make significant decisions off those first impressions. There are so many unknown factors in any meeting and understanding that we don’t know the full picture is important.
  2. Presume bad intent: People are generally good and are purposeful. Presume that a person has the right intentions. There will be cases when this presumption is wrong and once you have evidence that is the case act accordingly. However, quickly presuming bad intent in someone’s actions will result in poor relationships and generally result in you being wrong.
  3. Stereotyping: Even though stereotypes may prove correct sometimes avoid applying them to people. Stereotypes are dangerous, often times wrong, and if used incorrectly can make you look bad.
  4. Unwavering impression: Give people a chance to change. Don’t write a person off forever despite multiple bad impressions. People can always change and with time will often surprise you. We all go through different stages of our life and some of those stages are rough and don’t reflect the real us.

WLP Tip No. 4: Keep an open mind about people by not getting bogged down in first impressions, presuming bad intent, stereotyping, and impressions that do not change and be ready for people to surprise you because they often will.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Get “Balance Daniel-san”

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Many of us remember when Mr. Miyagi states “Balance Daniel-san” to Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid. However, how many of us really have good balance? Not the balance to do a one-legged crane kick but rather life balance.

When I speak of having good balance it really is aspirational. Sure there are weeks I get back on track and balance out things but often times my priorities are out of whack. I often work too much, I do not get enough sleep, I overly commit to charitable causes, I play too much golf (and bad golf at that), I eat too much, etc.

However, trying to find balance and realizing if you are not in balance are traits of successful people. That does not mean you always have to be in balance and you are not a bad person if you are not in balance. But, it does mean you have to have some self-actualization and do actions to better get balance.

For example, just like a lot of people I simply do too much and my mind goes rampant and this is not unusual for people. However, I realize that making a conscious effort to harmonize my mind with small meditation periods would be healthy and I have done just that. No you will not see me spending hours a day meditating but spending five or 10 minutes a day in silent meditation promotes good mental and physical health.

A few tips when trying to correct misaligned life balance:

  1. Stay positive: Don’t get down on yourself — be positive. The first step forward is realizing there is something that you can improve. Being down will only hurt your path forward.
  2. Small steps: Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make huge changes in your life to correct your life balance. This often times will lead to failure and depression. Take small steps and reap the rewards of the positive feeling of little accomplishments. These accomplishments will pile up and one day you will have the life balance you envisioned.
  3. Get support: Don’t hesitate asking for help and having others help you in your quest to better align yourself. People generally want the best for you. Personally I am lucky with to have a great wife and friends to offer support and honesty.

WLP Tip No. 3: Each day take the opportunity to self-actualize your life balance and staying positive and taking small steps to improve it with the support of your friends and family.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Process or die – the value of good processes

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Processes might not be sexy but they are important. One thing you learn very quickly as an information worker is that defining and executing good processes will provide efficiency, repeatability, and effectiveness.

Just like anything a good process is not easy to develop but time spent developing is usually well worth it. What people often don’t realize is that processes have a lifespan where they are born, they develop and they die.

  • Develop: Developing a process requires that you have the right people at the table. When developing a process always think about the primary purpose of the process. Keep in mind what are the necessary and repeatable steps to achieve that purpose.

It is essential to understand the lifespan of a process. Sometimes you may need to develop a process that you know will only have a short lifetime because of a change in technology and therefore the level of effort put into developing the process should be reflected in that shorter process lifespan.

  • Test: A process needs to be tested so that it does what it is supposed to do. Ideally there will be a quality metric and a way to measure that metric to ensure the process is performing per set standards. Testing is essential at both the initial process development stage but also developing ongoing testing is important to understand if the process is working as intended.

Some types of testing processes could be peer review testing, automated script testing, and quality metric verification testing to name a few. There are a lot of different types of testing that exist and you just need to ensure that initial and continuous testing needs for the particular process are established.

  • Document: Any good process is not developed until it is documented so don’t forget this important step. The process should be documented clearly step-by-step so that someone with the same skills as the person performing the process should be able to repeat it. Documenting the process provides value in not only helping ensure that knowledge is not lost but also that if audit comes a knocking you can happily answer the door.

Sometimes having a high-level and detailed process is warranted if it is a highly complicated process. The high-level process documentation will allow you to better communicate to executives and customers. The detailed process documentation will provide the detailed repeatable process.

  • Communicate: Not every process needs to be communicated but many do. If a new process is being put in place to help reduce customer fraud or increasing customer question resolution then take the opportunity to communicate this process. This communication may be internal and/or external depending on the circumstances. The degree of communication is really situation dependent but making a conscious decision on what to do regarding new process communication is essential step of process development.
  • Improve: No process is perfect from the start so there always can be process improvement. The more challenging question is whether resources should be spent improving a process or is it good enough. Not everything can be analyzed to the utmost degree but empowering and encouraging people executing the process to continue improving the process is essential to process improvement.

Having a process for process change is also important to layout for people to understand and follow. This would include things like determining if additional communication is needed if a process is changed and ensuring process documentation is updated with any process changes.

WLP Tip No. 2: Remember no matter who you are processes are important. Follow the process development steps of a) develop, b) test, c) document, d) communicate, and e) improve in order to establish efficient, repeatable, and effective processes.

Process development is not easy and not always fun but good processes payoff and will increase revenues, reduce risk, increase customer satisfaction, and much more.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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No better time than now

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What would you do if you knew you only had one more year to live? What would you do if you won the lottery? Write down your answers to these questions.

Think about those answers and ask yourself is what you are doing today what you would be doing in light of those answers. If your answers leave you empty then what are you waiting for? Life is short and the right time to do that thing is now.

  • When should I write that book you always wanted? Now.
  • When should I go back to school and learn physics? Now.
  • When should I go out on my own and open my own business? Now.
  • When should I travel to Europe and visit the Eiffel tower? Now.

This does not mean that your book will be a breakaway success or that you need to quit your job and start that new matchmaking business. Rather it means you need to start doing something to change those answers so that you are happy with them. This often means hard work.

Ok, I know you are saying come back to reality because I have a family and commitments and it is nice to say but I simply cannot live my dream. Certainly we all have commitments but don’t let those commitments eliminate your chance to achieve your dream. Committing a fraction of each day to pursue your dream will ensure that you are the best spouse, parent, employee, etc. Here are some tips to start living your dream:

  1. What would you do? Do an assessment and ask yourself “if you won the lottery today or only had one year to live what would you do?” Most people will answer something that they are not doing today. Assuming you are like most people that are not living their dream fully — write down a list of things that you would do or change. Take that list and identify the top three things that you would do.
  2. What would it take? Identify what it would take to achieve those top three things. It might be you need more money because it’s expensive to travel the world. Or, you might need more time with your family because you are busy and travel a lot. Or, you might need to run more to finish your first marathon.
  3. What can you do now? Often times whatever you are looking to do will require time or money or something else. It is now time to identify what you can do now for you to start moving towards your dreams. For example, say you are looking to write the great American novel and you write but not consistently and just can’t find the time. Look at your day and find 30 minutes every day to pursue your dream. If you cannot find 30 minutes then it is likely not truly something worth sacrificing. In this case you might want to wake up 30 minutes early every day and write. You will get the benefit of a fresh and spirited mind and when people get up they have the most self-discipline so you are most likely to do it.

For me this has certainly meant a change of pace in the last few years. It is not because of some near-death situation but rather a concerted effort to be more strategic with my life and how I spend my most valuable assets…time and effort. With that being said I often times work too much and don’t do as much as possible to live my dreams. Everyday I wake up and have a chance to start living my dream and many days I do this by getting involved in my community, writing, learning, and spending time with friends and family. By doing this I know I lead a more fulfilling life now and setting myself up for more success in the future.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Intellectual property primer

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Intellectual property is something all information workers should have a basic understanding about. It does not matter if you work in software, food, medicine, financial services, or any other industry there are intellectual property implications if you are in marketing, R&D, and even sales. Understanding intellectual property will help you know when to get the advice from others and some key things to avoid or beware about.

Intellectual property goes back a long way and is even mentioned in the United States Constitution. There is also a long history of intellectual property protection in other areas of the world. Over the years the United States and much of the world have aligned their views on intellectual property protection and the process to obtain and the duration to maintain intellectual property rights.

There are four main types of intellectual property:

Patents: There are three types of patents. The primary type of patent and the one most people seek and obtain is a “utility” patent. When you think of any invention whether it is a new silicon wafer, drug, software program, or food then you want a utility patent. However, there are also “design” and “plant” patents and you can “Google” these patents to find more detail about the differences.

A patent gives you the exclusive right to prevent others from making, using or selling the patented invention. In return for these exclusive rights the inventor must disclose the invention so that a skilled person in the art of the invention is able to recreate the invention. The idea here being you will get this exclusive right and get rewarded but you will benefit society with not only creating a new invention but also disclosing that invention. The term of a utility patent is 20 years.

In order to patent something the invention must be novel, useful, and non-obvious. Being novel just means your invention is new. Being useful means there is some type of utility of the invention. Being novel and useful is a very low threshold to overcome. The key is whether an invention is non-obvious meaning that the invention must not be obvious to someone in the field of the invention at the time the invention occurred.

A patent can be received in one country or many countries but the key is that if you want to patent something that you don’t go about making it public or selling it first and then seek to patent it. If you are getting feedback on an invention then use confidentiality agreements with people providing feedback to protect the disclosure from not being considered public.

There is the option to file what is called a provisional patent and these are less expensive and act as a placeholder for the more expensive full utility patent. This gives a person one year to then file a full utility patent. If a fully utility patent is sought and granted then it will give the inventor or her assignee an exclusive 20-year term based on when filed.

Patents are not cheap both because of government fees and because of legal fees. However, if you or your company does have an invention that is really patentable and provides a significant differentiation then patent obtainment costs are certainly worth it.

Trade Secrets: Trade secrets are oftentimes an alternative to patents. Trade secrets are just what it sounds like – keeping an invention secret. This is proper if you think the invention cannot be reverse engineered easily or if you think the importance is first mover advantage and not worth the legal fees.

When you think of trade secrets think of the things like KFC’s 11 herbs and spices or Coke’s formula. Companies will not give any one person the trade secret information and will ensure proper non-disclosure agreements are in place to protect the trade secret.

Trademarks: Trademarks provide protection for brands, services, designs and products in order to ensure that people are not confused. This protection includes things like words and images like the Nike swoosh and the saying “Just do it.”

Trademarks can be continuously renewed and can last perpetually. They are there to represent the brand but also are there to protect the public from confusion. Idea being that someone buying a brand has a certain expectation of quality and product type.

Another important part of obtaining a trademark is the quality of the mark and a mark is analyzed to determine if it is arbitrary, fanciful, suggestive, merely descriptive, or generic. A generic mark is something that cannot be trademarked. The other types of marks can receive protection.

The level of protection a trademark gets is based on a number of things. There is federal registration similar to copyrights and it is important that companies do this to ensure they get appropriate protection. This includes the ability to claim statutory damages instead of proving damages. One important note is that trademarks must be protected by a trademark holder or deemed to have rights forfeited.

In addition to trademarks there are service marks but the laws and implication about these are nearly identical. The difference between trademarks and service marks is just that a trademark applies to delivery of goods application while a service mark applies to the delivery of services. Often times you will see the discussion of these just together referenced under trademarks.

Copyrights: Copyrights cover creative works like music, books, plays, movies, artwork, photos, software code, etc. Copyrights must have some degree of originality but this threshold is low. Further, copyrights exist immediately when the work is fixed to a tangible medium. Tangible mediums include things like paper, film, or hard drives.

Once the person fixes the work to a tangible medium the copyright exists but the rights of a copyright holder become greater if they file a federal copyright registration. This federal registration will give additional rights like receiving statutory damages instead of having to prove damages if you have copyright infringed.

A copyright lasts the life of the author plus 75 years. The idea being that the author should receive the benefit of his work his entire life and plus be able to pass down rights. There is a lot of controversy around this timeframe with some arguing that this is simply there to make companies like Disney and Marvel wealthy.

Copyrights give the author or his assignee the exclusive right to reproduce works, prepare derivative works, and the right to perform and display works in public. However, there is a key item called the “Fair Use Doctrine” however that provides an exception to copyright exclusive rights. The Fair Use Doctrine applies to limited use of copyrighted material in instances such as parody, news reporting, search engines, research, testing, criticism, etc.

As an information worker intellectual property can be an extremely important asset or foe so knowing the basics and when to get professional help is important. This should not be considered legal advice and simply for educational value and make sure to contact a licensed attorney if you need professional advice.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Make all meetings scrum meetings

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It is amazing anything gets done in today’s workplace where people seem to spend most of their time in meetings, on conference calls, and responding to emails. Today I am going to cover meetings since this is one area that I think all of us can commiserate that we meet too much and get done too little. Instead I think we can take a lesson from the agile daily scrum meeting as the type of meeting to emulate.

For those of you not familiar with agile and the daily scrum meeting here is the 411. Agile meetings are stand-up meetings – yes literally people stand with the intent that the meeting should be short and people don’t have time to sit. Further, agile meetings are time boxed where the meeting lasts 15 min. and is geared at the key agile participants answering three key questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What are you doing today?
  3. Are there any obstacles you are facing?

All these questions are geared at focusing the team and ensuring maximum progress while supporting a strongly collaborative team.

This does not mean that every meeting has to be 15 minutes and there are three questions that everyone needs to answer. But, I do think when designing a meeting you should ask yourself the following:

  • What is the meeting purpose? You absolutely should never schedule a meeting without a clear meeting purpose. Avoid “touchbase” meetings as generally they have too many people and provide too little value.
  • Who are the necessary meeting participants? Only invite people that are necessary to the discussion. People like to be inclusive and this means meeting size becomes overwhelming and further too many people want to be part of too many “decisions”. Meetings should have 6 or less people to ensure maximum productivity. There are of course situations where larger groups of executives and other “marketing” meetings need to take place but don’t expect that those meetings will derive much value other than marketing.
  • How long should the meeting take? Avoid marathon meetings. Often times calendar default meetings are 1 hour but you can switch this. Try bringing that default meeting time to 30 min. or even 15 min. and it will force you to more consciously create longer meetings. I think most meetings should be 30 minutes or less. There are certainly situations where brainstorming or idea sessions take longer than 30 minutes but take at least one break every hour.
  • What is the meeting format and agenda? Meetings have many types of dynamics and formats. My preference is that a meeting be driven to be less professorial by the meeting host and more discussion driven to get input and results. The meeting organizer must be prepared though and have any data or information put together ahead of the meeting. Further, sharing this information and agenda of meeting ahead of time is optimal. The expectation that every invitee should come to the meeting prepared and if they had the agenda beforehand and supporting data, graphics, or information then the meeting itself will be much more beneficial for all.

These are some key tips to keep a meeting short and productive similar to the intent of an agile daily scrum meeting. While it is not easy to follow all the items above, it is certainly beneficial when you do and you will feel better after each meeting.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Changing the innovation culture

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Innovation is one of those buzz words that executives and companies are touting. Of course we all want to create new products and enhance value of existing products. How do you do that though? The first step in being successful in this arena is creating a culture that is geared towards innovation and new products.

Changing culture unfortunately is one of the most difficult things to do as a business though. It starts from talking-the-talk and walking-the-walk by empowering leaders and managers with the processes and resources to help drive your culture and encouraging them when they do. Innovative corporate cultures first ensure that a solid new product development process is in place. Then these companies will encourage employees to take balanced risks. Put in place tools to help identify and measure markets and new products. There are many other steps to reflecting the cultural shift but the key is making that cultural shift.

Some things leaders can do to help change culture include:

  • Senior leadership recognition: Each time senior leaders speak to employees they ensure consistent messages towards innovation and new product development culture. Include celebrations of balanced risks taken whether successful or not. Reward and highlight risk taking that ends in failure.
  • Cross-department and cross-functional teams: Establish cross-department and cross-functional innovation committees towards new product development. Periodically move people in and out of these committees to ensure that ideas remain fresh.
  • Ideation platforms: Implement idea catching and voting platforms like Brightidea or Spigit and establish framework to ensure utilization. Reward employees and customers for participating in bringing ideas forward to these platforms whether it is intrinsic or extrinsic rewards. Highlight people’s contributions here and emphasize the importance of participation.
  • Innovation centers: Have an innovation center that focuses on driving innovation and an innovative culture. Ensure that your top talent is involved in these innovation centers. Cycle people in through these innovation centers to ensure ideas don’t get stagnant.
  • In-house disruptive innovation businesses: For larger organizations, establishing self-contained business units geared towards disruptive innovation where metrics and rewards are measured differently. Read The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen to learn more about disruptive innovation. Establishing these disruptive innovation business units is a true measure of innovative companies.

Changing culture in organizations is something that needs to occur from top down but important visible and tangible things need to occur to change the culture. These changes do not occur overnight and the items above are just a few of the ideas that can help towards the cultural shift. Good luck in your cultural shift – it will be the hardest part but rewards are priceless.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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