All posts filed under “Business

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Great management tip for new hires

I was at a dinner a while ago with a well-respected Director of sales at Google. We were discussing hiring, and he mentioned one of the things he does with all of his new direct reports. I thought it was really smart and wanted to pass it on.

He requires all of his new hire direct reports to prepare a presentation to him after they’ve been on the job for three months. The presentation is supposed to include things that have surprised them about Google, both good and bad. The theory (and his experience!) is that after three months any new hire will have enough context to clearly see where the problems are, but not have lived with them for so long to have become immune to them. His direct reports all have experience prior to Google and therefore have sufficient background to say either “Wow, this is fantastic” or “Wow, this is really a load of crap.”

The presentation isn’t hugely formal, but this kind of critical thinking at about the three-month point is a great way to get honest and quality feedback about the organizational status quo. (Of course, then it’s up to the manager and his/her team to actually do something about it, but that’s for another time…)

Has anyone else had to do something similar, or required it of their new direct hires?

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The Rural Alberta Advantage (special thanks to Songkick)

A couple weeks ago I became a die-hard fan of an awesome Canadian band: The Rural Alberta Advantage. How did it happen? I heard that they were playing in London, thanks to Songkick, and it was simply a brilliant show. You should all buy their album NOW.

The Rural Alberta Advantage

I first heard of them on Fred Wilson’s blog: AVC.com. (If you haven’t heard of him, Fred is a famous venture capitalist who blogs on startups, venture capital and music.) The band ended up hearing about making his top records of 2008 list, and ended up inviting him to a show in New York, which sounded awesome. Links to his posts here:
http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2008/12/top-10-records.html
http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2009/01/the-joys-of-mus.html
http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2009/01/the-avc-music-meetup.html
http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2009/06/kickstarting-a-7.html

So when I heard they were going to be in town, I bought tickets, and put their album into heavy rotation the week or so beforehand to really get a sense of what they were about. The album was really good, but that doesn’t mean they were great live.

Well, it was a tiny club where I saw them, and the band is only three people, but they completely filled up the room with their sound and energy. Each song was different and distinctive, partly because the singer (Nils) explained briefly some of the more obscure Canadian stories and landmarks that are behind the songs. (ie, a tragic landslide that buried Frank, AB; the lyrics then make more sense and the song has a lot more soul.)

I find it tough to explain how awesome it is to see a great band in a small venue. But I did find a few videos on YouTube that have decent sound, so I posted them here so you can check them out.

Frank, AB

Edmonton

Eye of the Tiger

Please, go and buy The Rural Alberta Advantage’s album “Hometowns” NOW. (Click here for Amazon MP3 link.)

Songkick

I’d be remiss in this story if I didn’t tell you about Songkick. I’ve been a member since they were just coming out of beta. If you love seeing live music, don’t walk but RUN to register on Songkick.

Seriously… do it now.

It’s simple, but brutally awesome. You tell it what music you like and listen to (either through connecting it to iTunes or selecting manually), and then Songkick lets you know when those bands are going to be in your city. Most importantly, they only tell you about the bands you’re interested, and they tell you before tickets go on sale.

Before Songkick I had to subscribe to a bunch of mailing lists just so I had a *chance* of hearing about when bands I like were coming to town, let alone getting tickets. Now I just check my e-mail, figure out what I’m going to and when tickets go on sale, and GO.

Plus, for live music nerds like me there’s stuff like setlist archives, photos, videos and a whole bunch of other stuff for each concert that people can upload. You can also learn more about specific venues, specific bands, festivals and more.

If you want to see what I uploaded and wrote about The Rural Alberta Advantage concert above, just check out this link and explore Songkick:

http://www.songkick.com/concerts/4417566-rural-alberta-advantage-at-lexington

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The Checklist Manifesto – A hugely important book

Back in 2007 I read a fascinating article called “The Checklist” written by Dr. Atul Gawande in the New Yorker. Atul Gawande is a practicing surgeon, MacArthur Fellow, Rhodes Scholar and professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. The article described how a doctor convinced a group of hospitals in Michigan to do a wide-spread trial of a simple experiment: a checklist. The checklist aimed simply at making sure staff completed five key steps to limit central line infections, an unfortunately common source of infections in hospitals.

The result?

In one hospital:

  • 10-day infection rate went from 11% to ZERO
  • Prevented 8 deaths
  • Saved $2million in costs

Across ICU’s in Michigan:

  • In three months cut infections by 66%!
  • Typical ICU cut infection rate to ZERO
  • In 18 months, prevented 1500+ deaths
  • In 18 months, saved $175,000,000

These are amazing results, and his book on checklists, “The Checklist Manifesto,” was recently published. Click below to order it from Amazon.

This book is inspiring, educational, engaging, riveting and fascinating. It’s extremely well-written, and is a fairly easy read. I’ve never written a blog post immediately after finishing a book, but I am now because not only is it GOOD, but this book is IMPORTANT.

Dr. Gawande led a huge study of a “safe surgery” checklist, a simple set of steps to be checked in each surgery. It was used and studied in eight hospitals: four in the developed world (US, UK, etc.) and four in the developing world (Tanzania, New Delhi, Jordan, Manila). Thousands of patients were studied for months before and after checklists were implemented. The results?

  • Rate of complications fell by 36%
  • Deaths fell by 47%
  • Infections fell by nearly half
  • Even in advanced hospitals in developed world, complications were decreased by one-third

I mean…. WOW! Cutting infection rates and death rates in surgery by half (with marginal differences between developed and developing countries) is simply incredible.

But here’s a choice quote from the book:

Take the safe surgery checklist. If someone discovered a new drug that could cut down surgical complications with anything remotely like the effectiveness of the checklist, we would have television ads with minor celebrities extolling its virtues. Detail men would offer free lunches to doctors to make it part of their practice. Government programs would research it. Competitors would jump in to make newer and better versions. If the checklist were a medical device, we would have surgeons clamoring for it, lining up at display booths at surgical conferences to give it a try, hounding their hospital administrators to get one for them – because, damn it, doesn’t providing good care matter to those pencil pushers?

Checklists are powerful, and not just for surgery. Gawande writes about data from investment managers and venture capitalists that shows that those that use checklists are much more successful than those that don’t. They’ve been used in aviation for 70+ years, ever since airplanes became so complicated as to be dangerous without checklists. The modern construction industry uses checklists to ensure their projects are safe and properly constructed.

I’m very familiar with checklists; operating a nuclear reactor in a US Navy submarine means you live with checklists in everything you do. But I accepted it without too much thought since we had no idea there was any other way of running such a complicated machine. It’s amazing to me that other complex professions don’t also use the same procedures.

Checklists are threatening to many people and professions. Using them implies that professionals don’t know what they’re doing, that they don’t have the ability to do their jobs. Even with the results described in surgery above, many surgeons still don’t use them. (Despite the fact that they continually prove to save patients’ lives, everywhere.) As Dr. Gawande describes above, if the same results were achieved through a pill or machine, doctors and hospitals would be racing to adopt them!

Dr. Gawande goes into real detail not only in what makes a good checklist and how to develop them, but also why they work. They work by simply making sure that key simple steps are accomplished, and by freeing your brain from concerning itself about the easy stuff (since the checklist will catch anything you miss). This frees the brain to think about the hard stuff, and able to deal with complications more directly. Good checklists also make communications easier, so that when things do go wrong, the experts involved can address them more directly.

Fundamentally, time after time, in study after study… checklists WORK.

Summary

This is a hugely important book, and I honestly can’t recommend it more highly, It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, if you deal with or manage complexity, you NEED to read it.

If you want to efficiently improve your performance or your teams’ performance quickly and substantially, a checklist is your way to do it.

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A week of awesome tech/startup/cool stuff in Cambridge

Surfing_40_17250739.jpg

The week of 25-29 January 2010 is going to be absolutely awesome in Cambridge. There are three great events that you need to attend.

Of these, it’s most important that you come to the Cambridge Tech Meetup. We’ll be kicking the year off with a bang and six “wicked awesome” technology demos, from people/companies based in Cambridge.

Tuesday – January 26th – Enterprise Tuesday

Time: 6:30-7:30pm lecture (registration from 6pm, networking afterward)
Location: Lecture Theatre 0, Engineering Department, Trumpington Street
Speakers: Neil Davidson, Co-Founder and joint CEO, Red Gate Software; Steve Barlow, Co-Founder, Alphamosaic; Alex Mehta, Communications Director, Judicium

Enterprise Tuesday is a great event, and the topic for next week is “Building a Dream Team.” I recommend this specifically because I think incredibly highly of Neil Davidson, who co-founded Red Gate software and continues to serve as co-CEO. (In addition to founding the Business of Software conference, serving as Chairman of the Cambridge Network, and starting the Springboard programme at Red Gate.)

Link: http://www.cfel.jbs.cam.ac.uk/programmes/enterprise/timetable.html

*** Wednesday – January 27th – Cambridge Tech Meetup ***

Time: 6:30pm doors for 7pm start of demos (additional Q&A and discussion afterward)
Location: Lecture Theatre 1, Judge Business School, Trumpington Street

If you have to pick one event, come to the Cambridge Tech Meetup! (Yes, I started it with the help of many, many others.)

Six products will have has seven minutes to demo their technology/product; all of them developed in Cambridge! Everything from new display technology to cool video search technology to audio analysis and 3d model building via webcam will be demo’ed.

Demo companies/technologies are:

Link for info and to RSVP: http://www.meetup.com/Cambridge-Tech-Meetup/calendar/12221063/

(The sharp-eyed among you will notice that this takes place shortly after the big Apple announcement on the 27th. I’ll be sure to have the screen tuned to a live-blog or tweet-stream until the demo’s kick off.)

Thursday – January 28th – Cambridge Business Lecture: Dan Pink

Time: 6pm start (networking afterward)
Location: Robinson College, Grange Road
Speaker: Dan Pink, best-selling author, writer, speaker

This event is a Cambridge Business Lecture, hosted by the Cambridge Network. Dan Pink is a great author/writer, and I think it’s just fantastic he’ll be speaking in Cambridge. If you’re in town, go.

Link: http://www.cambridgenetwork.co.uk/events/article/default.aspx?objid=65628