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Someone Is Counting On It Being Remarkable October 25, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business, Personal.
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Whatever you’re making, designing, shipping or selling, it’s a Big Event for the person buying it and using it. It may be just another car/contract/widget to you, but someone is counting on it being remarkable.

I think I’m starting to get a feel for what I’m passionate about. I don’t have a lot of time to write about it at the moment, and I also might be able to articulate it better after letting the idea marinate further. In short, though, I think I like disrupting markets. It explains the presence of many in my blogroll and why I like conversations about being remarkable. Right now, I think customer service is generally so poor that being remarkable is an easy way to differentiate your business and disrupt the status quo. Maybe, some day, most companies will have great customer service. I look forward to that day, first because I want to be treated well when I’m a customer, and second because I would like the challenge of figuring out how to disrupt a market that treats people well. You’ll really have to “WOW!” (as Tom Peters would say) people, then!


Where Is The Appetizing Work? October 19, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business.
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A few excerpts from Paul Graham’s, “What I Did This Summer” (emphasis is mine):

People this age [18-28] are commonly seen as lazy. I think in some cases it’s not so much that they lack the appetite for work, but that the work they’re offered is unappetizing.

Too true. Though, I think the not-so-young are also frequently given unappetizing work to the same effect. If you’re young and not working 110%, you’re lazy. If you’re older and not working 110%, you’re jaded.

Some of this summer’s eight startups will probably die eventually; it would be extraordinary if all eight succeeded. But what kills them will not be dramatic, external threats, but a mundane, internal one: not getting enough done.

That is, they will fail to follow a simple recipe for success.

As hard as people will work for money, they’ll work harder for a cause.

Hugh Macleod’s “the market for something to believe in is infinite” applied to employees.

What do all of these say to me? People have an appetite for doing things / being productive. We want to do things in pursuit of a cause we believe in. In fact, we’re listless without such a cause. Listlessness leads to decreased productivity, which, left unchecked, leads to failure.

You’d think employers would be more interested in providing appetizing work.

(I guess Hugh would say the answer is, “build yourself a Global Microbrand,” and I’m not disagreeing. I mean, it’s either that or find an employer that provides appetizing work.)

Getting Off The Corporate Treadmill October 17, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business, Personal.
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[I’m currently suffering from information overload, which is why I’m writing about things that are close to a week old. I have so many things I want to read…]

Hugh MacLeod, in “The Global Microbrand Rant,” talks about the follies of staying on the “high-priced corporate, urban treadmill” (i.e. big city, corporate life). He follows that up with:

It seems to me a lot of people of my generation are locked into this high-priced corporate, urban treadmill. Sure, they get paid a lot, but their overheads are also off the scale. The minute they stop tapdancing as fast as they can is the minute they are crushed under the wheels of commerce.

You know what? It’s not sustainable.

However, the Global Microbrand is sustainable. With it you are not beholden to one boss, one company, one customer, one local economy or even one industry. Your brand develops relationships in enough different places to where your permanent address becomes almost irrelavant [sic]

Frankly, it beats the hell out of commuting every morning to the corporate glass box in the big city, something I did for many years. Just so I could make enough money to help me forget that I have to commute every morning to the corporate glass box in the big city.

I can relate to this, except that even the money couldn’t help me forget that I was commuting to the corporate glass box and was unhappy about it. That’s why I got off the treadmill. The question for myself is, “now what?” Maybe I’ll end up back in a glass box; I’m not sure. If so, it would be important that it not feel like the usual corporate soul-drain because I don’t think there’s anything that could allow me to forget what I was doing, what (unsustainable) sacrifice I was making.

Oh, and Hugh, it’s not just folks from your generation that are locked into it. I know countless twenty-somethings that are playing the same game (mostly as consultants). And while they aren’t so happy with it, they do love their money.

Privatizing Public Records October 7, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business, Technology.
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Bruce Schneier wrote a piece on automated license plate scanners, which are being used by the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) to identify vehicles with too many unpaid parking tickets. Near the end of the article is the following paragraph:

Richard M. Smith, who took this photo, made a public request to the BTD last summer for the database of scanned license plate numbers that is being collected by this vehicle. The BTD told him at the time that the database is not a public record, because the database is owned by AutoVu, the Canadian company that makes the license plate scanner software used in the vehicle. This software is being “loaned” to the City of Boston as part of a “beta” test program.

So if a government wants to keep a set of records a secret from the public, all it has to do is put the records into a database that is owned by a private firm and (presumably) make sure to include a contractual stipulation that says the government has largely unrestricted rights to the data? I hope I’m misunderstanding something because that setup would be ripe for abuse.

Google Gave Us Rope to Hang Them With October 5, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business.
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IWantMedia interviews John Battelle (co-founder and founder of magazines Wired and The Industry Standard, respectively) on the subject of Google, Yahoo, and “traditional media.” It ends with a question about Google’s famous motto: “Don’t Be Evil”. John’s response:

That motto will slowly sink into the ocean of history. As Jeff Bezos once told me, and I put in the book, of course you should strive not to do evil. No company is going to have a motto “Be Evil.”

What they were trying to say with “Don’t Be Evil” is: Don’t fall into the trap of doing things the way most large corporations do them simply because that’s how they do them. I don’t think they anticipated it was going to become a length of rope that might hang them

(emphasis is mine)

I agree that their motto serves as a length of rope, and maybe they really didn’t anticipate giving that rope to users like they did. However, the fact that they did give us this rope is one thing I (and I think other Google users) like about Google. They’ve set a high bar for everyone to measure their actions against, and because they make their motto so prevalent, we’ll be quick to kick the chair out from under them (or at least nudge it to remind them of the position they are in) if they falter. Of course, we should want to hang any company that doesn’t treat us right, but a company that stands up on the chair and gives you the rope for the noose before they get started inspires confidence and trust. If John is right, and the motto fades away, I have a feeling that an important part of the Google loyalty that it engenders will have faded away as well.

Employees Not So Different From Entrepreneurs October 4, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business.
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Don Dodge, former VP of Product Development at (the old) Napster, wrote, “Napster – the inside story and lessons for entrepreneurs.” He listed some of the lessons he learned from the whole Napster ordeal, including:

Never get too far ahead of the market. Creating new markets, new business models, and value propositions is very difficult and takes lots of time and money. Pioneers are usually unsuccessful, the fast followers make most of the money.


Never start a business focused on solving a big company’s problem. They don’t know they have a problem…and they are probably right. That is how they got to be so big in the first place. The record labels didn’t know they had a digital distribution problem and were not interested in our solution to it.

These remind me of my early experiences as a full-time employee of a large organization. Part of my job included putting out fires, and I felt like I was fighting the same fires over and over again. I also felt like I could identify The Source of all the fires, but every attempt at getting the organization to address The Source was rebuffed. The Source, I was told, was not something that could be reasonably dealt with, and putting out the same fire repeatedly was understood to be a cost of doing business.

I understand that they have since changed their mind and have been working on addressing The Source for more than a year now. Now, it’s quite possible that my approach to initiating change was a bad one; it was early in my career and I was unfamiliar with organizational behavior. It’s also possible that I was ahead of my time or the organization didn’t know it had a problem. I suspect it was a combination of all those things. One thing I’m more sure of is that employees and entrepreneurs face some similar challenges when it comes to making progress with large (and maybe small, as well) organizations. To employees of large organizations trying to initiate change from within, it would probably behoove you to listen to VCs and entrepreneurs talk about the lessons they have learned. They are sure to be relevant.