Thursday, March 31, 2005

"The trip to Disneyland is cancelled”

The coolest thing about the Net is its ability to disseminate information in new ways – whether it’s through blogging, podcasting, or just posting other people’s memos for nosy outsiders to read.

That last bit is the premise of, which lets you access other companies’ authentic memos – submitted by people unknown for reasons unstated. It provides a fun, X-ray look inside other companies. So I paid the $45 fee in order to share Memo-rable Moments with the faithful readers of my column in PROFIT Magazine.

I found the results hilarious (he said modestly). But there were some interesting lessons to be learned. Plus an example of outstanding executive memo-ing (from Microsoft, no less). Here’s the link:

For those too busy to chase links today, here are a few excerpts from the warm, empowering memos of Corporate America.

The category: Treating employees like adults.

* "The trip to Disneyland has been cancelled. This is not to be mentioned again to anyone inside or outside the office."
* "Fragrances and scented products that are perceptible by others are not to be worn in the department."
* "Use of cellphones by employees must be limited to personal time and in non-working areas… Cellphones should be in the OFF mode, not vibrate, in all work areas."
* "When doing your expense reports, you are only allowed to use scotch tape to keep receipts in place."

Ain’t literacy grand?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Working for Yourself

Every entrepreneur will empathize with a little piece posted today by Winnipeg blogger Jeremy Wright called “The Funny Thing About Work”.

It’s about the difference between working for a company and working for yourself. It’s sad, it’s funny, and it’s very true.

Sample lines: “When you work for someone else: You can’t wait to take breaks.When you work for yourself: You feel guilty stepping away from the computer.”

“When you work for someone else: Being sick is a break.When you work for yourself: Being sick means you have to do more work when you’re better… so you might as well just work when you’re sick.”

Check it out at

MAUssive Change

You may already know of Bruce Mau, the showy and ambitious Canadian designer. (His exhibition, Massive Change”, , is at the Art Gallery of Ontario till mid-May.)

Mau, a designer, writer, entrepreneur and self-appointed social critic, has a pretentious but endearing philosophy of life, business, art and design that he calls his “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.” It’s worth reading for his ideas on creativity, collaboration, and things like “making mistakes faster.”

The best way to read it, though, is at . It’s part of an intermittent blog by Dean Allen, who claims to be “a recovering graphic designer” from Canada now residing in the south of France. On Allen’s page, you get both Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto and Allen’s annotated comments – which are biting, cynical and funny. So you get the best of both worlds – interesting pontifications about creativity, and the cynical translation.

Where Mau advises (point 13): “Slow down. Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves;” Allen interprets that as designer-speak for, “And this is why the sketches were late.”

Fun, eh? I liked this point by Mau (No. 14): “Don’t be cool. Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.” Allen translates that as: “We don’t acknowledge cool. Isn’t that cool?”

This page manages to appeal to both sides of me at the same time: idealist and cynic.
Have fun with it, at

Monday, March 28, 2005

What’s Wrong with Business, part 295

In human history, evil and corruption have flourished in the dark, out of sight of the eyes of reasonable people who can tell wrong-doing when they see it.
So can blogging, by expanding our awareness of what’s going on, bring greater fairness to the world? I bet it can.

Just check out, a blog from US freelance business journalist Michelle Leder in Peekskill, N.Y. “Footnoted” is her collection of embarrassing details and suspect deals lurking within the fine print of corporate filings in the U.S.
Her recent scoops include the rising costs of limos and drivers at American Express, and the US$80,000 paid to the CEO of Kerr McGee to encourage volunteer participating in community activities. Note that that’s not his total pay – just a little extra to thank him for joining the chamber of commerce.

But I really like today’s item (you may have to look for it in the Archives section, under March 28, 2005). She has busted John DelPonti, an Executive Vice President at IndyMac Bancorp. in Los Angeles. Seems his compensation includes a sweetheart house deal, in which he gets to rent a $2.5-million house bought for him from the bank for only $6,500 a month (about half the mortgage he would be paying if he was a normal working stiff like, say, his bank’s customers).

Better yet, if LA house prices fall, he doesn’t take the hit. But if they go up, he has the right to buy the house at the bank's purchase price!

Not an unusual deal for big guns in big business, of course. The irony here is that DelPonti’s title is Chief Risk Officer. Let’s hope he does as good a job managing risks for his bank as he does for himself.

(Leder savvily throws in one more barb: “Even more surprising is that DelPonti isn't even one of the top five executives at the company, which kind of makes you wonder what sorts of real estate deals IndyMac dished out to the top cheese.”

As I said, it’s good to know that people are watching out for these things – and that blogging is enabling them to get the message out.

Jack’s Back!

Jack Welch is back, with a new bride and a new book with all the answers.

Okay, enough cynicism. The former CEO of General Electric, poster boy for successful professional manager, is trying to win back his reputation after being humiliated during his divorce proceedings when his ex-wife’s lawyers blabbed about all his retirement perks. (“I never even used the Knicks tickets,” he says now.)
His new book, Winning (published April 5), is co-written with his new wife Suzy (former editor of the Harvard Busniess Review), and looks like a big deal. (When Dan Rather does his first post-anchorman interview with Jack and Suzy, remember they’re just selling books.)

Winning has some interesting things to say, though. Jack has wrestled with what made him and his people successful over 30 years, and is now dispensing that accumulated wisdom. According to the excerpts published online by Newsweek, some of it is pretty pedestrian, while other parts are highly personal – some even controversial.

(Consider Jack’s view on work-life balance, for instance: “Bosses know that the work-life policies in the company brochure are mainly for recruiting purposes and that real work-life arrangements are negotiated one on one in the context of a supportive culture, not in the context of, "But the company says ...!"
“People who publicly struggle with work-life balance problems and continually turn to the company for help get pigeonholed as ambivalent, entitled, uncommitted, incompetent—or all of the above.”)
Watch for the fur to fly as that gets out.

But Jack also has some positive advice on dealing with what he rightly calls the paradox of leadership. For instance, I like what he says about how leaders learn.


"When you are an individual contributor, you try to have all the answers. When you are a leader, your job is to have all the questions. You have to be incredibly comfortable looking like the dumbest person in the room. Every conversation you have about a decision, a proposal, or a piece of market information has to be filled with you saying, "What if?" and "Why not?" and "How come?" Questioning, however, is never enough. You have to make sure your questions unleash debate and raise issues that get action.”

You’ll find lots more Welchisms at

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Just when you thought it was safe to go on vacation

Here’s a cool new Dire Warning from New York Times tech writer and blogger David Pogue.

It seems that when travelling in Peru recently, he was logging onto the Net from various Internet cafes. Bad idea. He discovered (how, he didn’t say) that many of he computers he was using contained programmers that tracked every word he typed – every login ID, every password.

In his words: “I found that nearly a quarter of the machines had keylogging software installed (that I could detect, anyway). The proprietors always alleged to know nothing about this.”

So when using any Internet cafĂ©, be wary about your email sign-ins, online banking, or even catching up on your eBay auctions. You never know who’s watching – and ready to empty your PayPal account.

If you want to see Pogue’s original blog (and he writes good stuff), visit the URL I have pasted into a comment, below. It is just too big to fit onto this page.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Do you have what it takes?

I was glad to see a local business association yesterday link to a project I worked on more than 10 years ago. I’d almost forgotten the National Entrepreneurship Test, a big feature we wrote in a special issue of PROFIT back in the early ’90s. In 2000 we dusted it off, revised it and put it online at, where people keep finding it to this day.

A couple of the questions sound a little outdated now, but for the most part it still holds up. I have no idea how many people have taken the N.E.T. over the years, but we gave free license to anyone who wanted to use it in non-commercial contexts, so it’s safe to say it has been taken by tens of thousands of people.

The N.E.T. is not your normal entrepreneurship test. It has twisted questions about Star Wars, your opinion of garbage service privatization, what you would do if someone failed to show up for a meeting, and other fun stuff. It’s as much about attitude as knowledge and character, because that’s what I believe entrepreneurship really is: a way of looking at the world.

Test your worldview at

When you’re done, click on the “Submit” button to see how you did. Good luck!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Best Business Movies

Last month, the editors of Inc. Magazine celebrated the Oscars by taking a look at the Best Business Movies of all time. That is such a good idea that we did it at PROFIT Magazine about six years ago.

Here is Inc.’s Top 10 list of Best Business Movies.

The Aviator
It’s a Wonderful Life
Citizen Kane
Wall Street
Tucker: The Man and His Dream
Glengarry Glen Ross
What Women Want
Working Girl
The Hudsucker Proxy
The Insider

I think they forgot one. Here is the text of a message I left on their website today.

“I think you missed the best entrepreneur movie of all time: Schindler's List.

“It tells the story of a businessman who was able to defy the Nazi empire and do a surprising amount of good, starting out at first almost by accident.

“No other movie has come close to Schindler in terms of portraying business as a basis for independent initiative and power. It makes an eloquent statement about the positive power of capitalism and the need to create non-governmental organizations of size, stability and influence in order to balance the power of the state.”

Monday, March 21, 2005

Like, what is Truth?

Here’s an excerpt from a time management e-newsletter that I get every week, from Canadian time-management expert Harold Taylor.

“Those who write down their goals are 90 times more likely to accomplish them than those who don't.
(Source unavailable)”

A pretty impressive stat, n'est-ce pas? But I dunno – doesn’t that credit line (or lack of same) undermine the whole notion? The source isn’t just “unknown,” but unavailable!

Sorry, Hal, but in the Wild West Internet, this isn’t good enough. If you can’t quote an authoritative source, don’t pass along the information – at least not without a caution. Why a respected expert would put his rep on the line for this, I don’t know.

Ironically enough, the New York Times News Service did a little number on this sort of thing on Friday, in a story called, “If it's on the Internet, it must be true ... right?”

The story was about a website called , founded by a 19-year-old student at George Washington University. He delights in posting absurd, but often authentic-sounding “facts” that he or his web visitors make up. Examples from today:

• Worldwide, an estimated 4,000 children die every year from a sugar deficiency.
• Despite being landlocked, Missouri has the highest per capita boat ownership of any state in the United States.
• The average eight ounce cup of yogurt contains around 6,000 species of bacteria.
• In Valdosta, Georgia, it is illegal to publicly display a whip that is over five feet in length.
• Occidental Palms have the shortest life span of any known tree; most do not live longer than two years.

They sure sound real, don’t they? And who knows, maybe once in a while, by some cosmic coincidence, they actually turn out to be true.

So there’s your lesson for the day. Don’t believe everything you read. And question people’s sources when they quote authoritative “facts” at you.

Unless, of course, they actually prove your point.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Best in the West

How do you build a great business? With great people. That’s something we forget too often, both business leaders and the people who write about them.

In Alberta, though, they know which way is up. For eight years, Edmonton-based Alberta Venture Magazine has been holding an awards program to recognize the business-building efforts of outstanding employees. You heard that right - not CEOs, but ordinary ermployees. This year they received 187 nominations, which is ample testament to the importance of what they’re doing.

They claim it’s Canada's only province-wide employee recognition program. What could be taking other provinces so long?

Winners were selected in eight categories: Business Results: The Bottom Line, Quality Enhancement, Community Service, Continuous Learning, Customer Service, Quality of Working Life, Team Performance, and Exemplary Young Employee.
To read about any of these winners, visit

Congrats to Alberta Venture for “getting it” -- in a way that the big-league Toronto media just don’t understand.

Truth in Blogging: While I admire Alberta Venture, I also write for it. But my admiration for the magazine preceded my involvement. I write a monthly column on the back page exploring Eastern (read Ontario) attitudes to ever-growing Alberta. Why would Albertans care what Toronto thinks? Check out my first column, published last September: “Who Cares?”

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Networking Every Week

Do you know how to make the most of a networking event? What do you say at a party when someone asks, “What do you do?”

Tonight I heard an expert on these terrifying topics: Michael Hughes, an Ottawa entrepreneur who bills himself as Canada's Networking Guru. (And why not? He gets a lot of his material from my friend Tom Stoyan, Canada’s uncontested Sales Coach.)

Although some of his material is familiar, Michael did a good job. I thought some of his one-liners were great: Marketing is all about Visibility and Value. Sales is three things: Prospecting, Presenting and Following Up. Copy this stuff and paste it in your DayTimer.

I was working the video camera tonight (CAPS, the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, records all its meetings and lets members borrow the tapes, which I think is quote cool), so I couldn’t take many notes. His main points were pretty simple, though.

- Know who your target market is. (It’s surprising how many people are Not Clear on this One Little Thing.)

- Attend at least one networking event a week where members of your target market are likely to congregate. (Michael’s favorite is Ottawa’s Board of Trade, which he credits for enabling much of his success. In fact, he likes the board so much he’s about to become its president!)

- Develop personal relationships with people first. Don’t talk business. Talk about the Three Fs: Family, Friends and where are they From? (I like that he admitted that his third F does stretch it a bit.) If you start by forging personal relationships, he says, the business relationships that evolve will be much stronger.

- When you do get around to talking business, find out all you can about the person’s business, and what pains/needs he or she has. Find a way to create value. To seal the deal, ask the question, “How can I help?”

- If you identify a way you can help someone, do so as quickly as you can. That will separate you from the crowd – and create a feeling of appreciation that will stand you in good stead in future. The more favors you do for people, the more people you can call on in future.

You’ll find lots more good stuff from the Networking Guru at
I’ve already signed up for his weekly newsletter, and his site offers some useful free articles and checklists.

Happy Networking!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Google's AdSense a bonanza - for some

Interesting article in yesterday’s USA Today on the impact of AdSense on blogging – and some bloggers. It turns out you can make $10,000 US a month from those little ads you let Google put on your blog. (Scroll way, way down to find them in this blog.)

I put AdSense on this blog just to see what would happen. I even wrote in disgust about how ads for Star Trek cra- er, merchandise, showed up immediately after I posted about the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Of course I have no idea whether I am getting rich or not by anyone CLICKing ON THE ADS on this blog. (It’s certainly not kosher to ask people to.) I think AdSense said they would cut no cheque for less than $100, so I don’t expect to hear from them till about 2024. If ever.

Maybe I need one of those auto-clicking programs the story talks about.

For an idea of how the scent of money might be compromising blogs, check out this para from the USA Today piece:

Web site publishers need to be creative, says Dave Lavinsky of, an AdSense advice site. A house painter advertising his services on a homemade site is leaving money on the table if he mentions only house painting, he says. "'Housepainting' is a 20-cent word. 'Home improvement' is worth $2, so you should create content for that."

If you’re interested in the current state and future of blogs, check it out at

It even starts with a Canadian example!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The E-Bay Economy

Like that title? I used it once before on a column I wrote about the new “eBay economy.” With its ability to create like-minded though geographically disparate markets, and even better, its ability to create a climate of trust by recording individuals’ transaction records, I suggested that eBay was providing a model for a whole new way of doing business.

Four years later, it’s really happening.

Check out this story by Jonathan Duffy of BBC News Magazine, “If the world was run like eBay.”

It records the rise of, a UK-based, eBay-like business that offers loans by aggregating willing borrowers and lenders. Sure, zany dot-coms come and go, but this could work -- so long as market participants trust the site’s online security checks and other anti-fraud safeguards. For its part, Zopa receives a 1% upfront fee from the borrower, which sounds pretty cushy.

I like the fact that Zopa assumes its members are big kids, who can make their own decisions and choose the risks they want to take.
“At Zopa, you can take calculated risks or play it safe, you can be impatient or you can play a long game, you can pocket your profit or reinvest it, you can watch your investment every day or every month. None of these ways are right or wrong, they are just how it is.”

(FYI: ZOPA is a negotiating term that means “Zone of Possible Agreement.” As the site says, “if there’s no ZOPA, there’s no deal.”)

The story also cites similar disintermediary businesses in the UK, such as Betfair, which enables any two people in the world, to bet against each other. And then there’s Adultwork, which apparently, uhmm, makes pimps redundant.

And so our world spins …

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Space without NASA?

I just found a fascinating story from a few months ago on the Inc. Magazine website. It’s a profile of Burt Rutan, the aerospace engineer who designed SpaceShipOne, the aircraft that last October won the X Prize for going into space twice in one week.

Rutan was named Inc.’s Entrepreneur of the Year in January. As founder of Scaled Composites, a 125-employee firm in Mojave, Calif., Rutan has broken record after record in aviation – but he will now be remembered as the man who made space travel a consumer product (assuming you can afford $200,000 for the ride).

Inc. has an appropriately entrepreneurial take on how Rutan did it.

"His achievement isn't really a matter of altitude or new types of space vehicles. It's about the business model. Rutan managed to send human beings out of the atmosphere without the benefit of an army of engineers and hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds. Instead, he did it the same way a fast-growth software or biotech company develops products -- with a small team, angel funding, freewheeling management, a willingness to take big risks, and a belief that serious profit lay on the far side. Not surprisingly, Rutan sounds a lot more like a venture capitalist than a salaried aerospace engineer. ‘The government is poison for the process,’ he says. ‘The flying that America has done in the last 20 years is by far the most expensive way to get to space and the most dangerous. This can't be done with NASA funding. It absolutely has to be privately funded.’”

Does he have the Right Stuff?
See the full story at

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Petals Around the Rose

My friend Bill passed this on the other day.

It’s a link to a math problem that was going around his office (a promising high-tech startup). Bill offered just one clue: “the longer it takes you to figure it out, the smarter you are.”

Tests such as these appeal to the competitive part of my nature. But I also think puzzle solving is an important entrepreneurial exercise, as it forces you to think in new ways and more deeply than usual.

In business, as in many parts of life, the first solution you think of may work, but it will not usually be the best or most efficient answer. So you need to believe that extra time spent studying the problem will result in new and possibly better solutions. So what better way to demonstrate that concept than by doing “impossible” puzzles that frustrate you the first or second time, but then succumb immediately when you approach them from a different perspective.

My oh-so-bright friends got this one the second time. I had to go away and then come back a couple of days later – at which point I changed my thinking, and found the right track at last.

SPOILER ALERT – Skip the next two paras if you haven’t tried the puzzle yet. But come back when you do.

Instead of trying to prove my math savvy by deciphering the relationships between the numbers, I paid attention to what I didn’t know – and got the solution within a minute. Which is a lesson well worth learning: focus on the questions you don’t understand. Don’t ignore what you don’t know.

Only when I solved the puzzle did I understand the clue, “the longer it takes you, the smarter you are.” We’ve all seen people try to over-analyze and outmuscle problems, when the true answer was really much easier. Lesson 2: There is virtue in simplicity.

Friday, March 04, 2005

“Reverses” That Boost Sales

Long post: Reading Time, 4 minutes
(But it'll be a very valuable 4 minutes)

I believe that sales conversations should be legitimate, genuine conversations – not sales pitches, and not mutually antagonistic psychological warfare, either. If you’re selling something, you have to be sincere. authentic and helpful.

Still, there are times when your prey – er, prospect – will use mental tricks of their own on you, to probe your commitment, delay a decision, or beat down the price. And most people have no idea how to turn these stall tactics to their advantage.

I’ve found a cool book that offers lots of ideas and ammunition for situations like this. Close the Deal: Smart Moves for Selling, by Sam Deep and Lyle Sussman, provides 120 checklists of successful sales tips and tactics – and one of the best deals with what the authors call “Reverses.” These are things you can say and do to counter prospects' stalls and keep them talking – the ideas being that the more you discover about a client’s needs and concerns, the better you can help them, and the closer you'll be to a sale.

Here are a few highlights from the chapter, “Nineteen Reverses That Clarify the Buyer's Position.”

“Reversing is the strategy of shifting back onto buyers the pressure they place on you with challenging questions and statements,” say the authors. "The buyer uses these questions and statements to mask deep levels of emotion and pain. Reversing often involves asking a question in response to a buyer's question. One reason to reverse is to keep buyers talking. Another is to get them to redefine their original question or statement to something that is closer to their real intent, which they almost never reveal without help.”

To avoid annoying prospects with your reverses, the authors suggest preceding most reverses with “softening statements” such as, "I appreciate that. . .," "Help me to understand...," "I'm not sure, but...," "Good point,” “I’m glad you asked,” "A lot of people ask that,” and “First, let me ask you this. . . ."

Here are 10 useful examples from Close the Deal of “reverses” in action.

1. Pinned down.
Buyer: "What's this going to cost me?”
You: "Good question. Why do you ask?”

2. Off the record.
Buyer: "What's the price?"
You: "Off the record, Pat, what price were you looking for?"
(None of this discussion is off the record, but the pres­sure it relieves will many times open up buyers.

4. Controlling the interview.
Buyer: "What about [topic you don't want to discuss yet]?"
You: "That's an important question. Could we back up for just a moment, first?"

5. Pressure-packed moment.
Buyer: "Why is it that you won't give me a price?" (Buyer is bear­ing down on you.)
You: "Pat, is there some reason why you're putting all this pressure on me?"

8. The "magic wand" reverse.
This reverse helps buyers paint the picture of their needs and wants. You ask, "If you had a magic wand that could produce the ideal solution to your problem, what would it be?"

11. What?
When buyers say something that is in your best interest, say, "What?" This allows them to hear it a second time and is a power­ful way to make them more positive about your product.

14. Buyer expresses mistrust or anger.
Your best reverse is, "There must be a reason you feel that way." Take great care not to get angry back.

15. A question you can't answer.
When you don't know the answer to a buyer's question, say, "I'm not sure. What do you think?" Never answer a question dishon­estly.

16. You need more information before you respond.
Buyer: "How reliable is your delivery?"
You: "Please help me with something. What does reliable mean?"

… and a sneaky one…

17. Your price is under fire.
Buyer: "Here's what I'm paying my present supplier. Can you beat it?"
You: "No. That's a good price. [pause] Let me ask you a question. Can you guess why we do so much volume in this market, and yet we never have the lowest price?"
Buyer: "Service?"
You: "That's it! [Say this no matter what the buyer picked.] Now why do you think our customers are willing to pay extra for service?"

Selling is not psychological warfare. But that doesn’t mean you should walk into any deal unarmed.

Excerpted from Close the Deal: Smart Moves for Selling, by Sam Deep and Lyle Sussman, Perseus Books, Cambridge, Mass. 1999.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Comments R US

I have been remiss in failing to acknowledge a milestone for this blog: our First Comment!
A visitor named Shoestrings comments on our Feb. 10 post, "Why Small Business Rocks".

I was opining that it is small business that is responsible for most innovation in business today – and that big business recognizes that its role is to spot the successful entrepreneurs and buy them out. I suggested this is a good thing, because the entrepreneurs are then free to start more innovative businesses – this time with cash bulging out of their pockets (which isn’t always a positive, but let’s accept it as such for now).

Shoestrings makes a good point about the motives of entrepreneurs who start a business with the intention of selling out to “big-assed corporates.” He questions the long-term success of any business that puts “selling out” ahead of serving the customer.

The point I was trying to make, though, is not that most entrepreneurs start a business as Step One toward selling out. In my experience, people start businesses to fill a market gap and fulfill their own needs. Yes, a small minority are started with the intention of selling out, just as some homebuyers purchase real estate with the goal of flipping it for a quick profit. You see this mostly in the technology businesses that are designed from Day One to attract the interest of venture capitalists; the founders use the term “exit strategy” a lot.

For the most part, however, people build businesses in order to prove a theory or earn a living. Early on, success is just a remote concept, only dimly perceived, a light shining in a distant harbour on a foggy night. To my mind, the best businesses are not those that are founded with the intention of selling out, but those that provide a product or service better than anyone else in the market. All the success they enjoy follows from that.

Thanks for the comment, Shoestrings. Feel free to speak up any time.

The Essential Corporate Checkup

No time to post
barely time to think
but that’s the Web’s for
Here’s a cool link!

I intended this blog to be a link to cool entrepreneur resources as well as my own thoughts. So here’s a useful article from the most recent issue of PROFIT Magazine, on how to diagnose the health (or ills) of your business.

It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it will get you thinking. Kudos to Ian and Kim.

My column in the latest issue is about positioning statements – how to say what you do so people actually give a darn. I will post a link as soon as PROFIT puts it up online.