Visa, Mastercard, Debit or Bitcoins?

Bitcoins are the first democratic currency. It’s an experimental new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world using peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority. This is very different from our government controlled central banks model currently used around the globe. Bitcoin is based on faith in an algorithm and an open network instead of the full faith and credit of a country.

Wired did a good job explaining how it works.

1) How They’re Made

Bitcoin’s economy consists of a network of its users’ computers. At preset intervals, an algorithm releases new bitcoins into the network: 50 every 10 minutes, with the pace halving in increments until around 2140. The automated pace is meant to ensure regular growth of the monetary supply without interference by third parties, like a central bank, which can lead to hyperinflation.

2) How They’re Mined

To prevent fraud, the bitcoin software maintains a pseudonymous public ledger of every transaction. Some bitcoiners’ computers validate transactions by cracking cryptographic puzzles, and the first to solve each puzzle receives 50 new bitcoins. Bitcoins can be stored in a variety of places—from a “wallet” on a desktop computer to a centralized service in the cloud.

3) How They’re Spent

Once users download the bitcoin app to their machine, spending the currency is as easy as sending an email. The range of merchants that accept it is small but growing; look for the telltale Bitcoin symbol at the cash register. And entrepreneurial bitcoiners are working to make it much easier to use the currency, building everything from point-of-service machines to PayPal alternatives.

Wired’s article, the rise and fall of Bitcoin is an interesting read, but almost a year after this article was written, Bitcoin is still around and being watched by many as to how this new technology will weave it’s way into modern society. I find this to be a very interesting concept and one whose time has come. The centralized government controlled currency system has showed it’s weaknesses over the past 10 years and new options and ideas like Bitcoin are welcomed in my opinion.

How to lose $10 million a minute

That’s what it can cost when you implement technology systems poorly. A news story today about Knight Trading losing over $440 million dollars due to “a computer glitch” from a recent implementation of a new trading system reminds me of the resistance I have often experienced from leaders of organizations on how to implement new technology systems.

Like I’ve talked about before, Enterprise change needs to be executed in the order of the People, Process, Technology. This concept has been proven over and over again, yet many of today’s old school executives think “it’s just a technology upgrade” and proceed to implement it without focusing on the people and processes that will change due to the upgrade. They don’t dedicate the right type and amount of resources and think you can just muscle in a new system. I’ve seen it many times from inexperienced Sr. executives that don’t understand technology, don’t embrace project management best practices and don’t have a good working relationship with the IT department. They think project management, governance, business analysis and documentation add too much cost to a project and therefore discount it’s usefulness. The thinking that using a project methodology adds too much red tape to the process of implementing technology is a clear sign that you’re in way over your head.

Knight Trading’s experience highlights a great example of what can go wrong on technology projects when poor leadership, planing and governance are not in place. I don’t know the details of exactly what went wrong but having been apart of many large software implementations I would bet this “glitch” had more to do with leadership, planing and governance than it did with technology.

Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist

Last week I picked up a new Start-up book called Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson, managing directors at Foundry Group. If you’ve ever wanted to know the process and legalities of venture financing, this book is for you. I’ve always been curious about start-up financing and finding any books about the subject is near impossible. This book covers everything from the players to the process and all the documentation in between.

I’m about 1/2 way through and finding the topic very interesting and helpful in understanding a sometimes complex subject. The major focus is on the term sheet which is full of all sorts of legal terms that entrepreneurs need to understand. Traditionally people would pay their lawyers to teach them this stuff so it makes this great book invaluable.

Leadership Challenges at RIM

I’m a true believer in phrase “Leadership Reflects Attitude” and when ever I see failure, be it a project or an entire company, my first thought is what kind of leaders are in charge? Not just the C level Leaders but the entire management team. What is their management and decision making styles?

The 5 traits of a good leader are:

  1. Must be a visionary
  2. Must have passion
  3. Must be a decision maker
  4. Must be a team builder
  5. Must have character.

I don’t argue that at RIM’s peak of success, their executives had these traits but something has definitely gone wrong as they scaled the organization from it’s earlier days.

Today marks yet another day of bad news for Research in Motion. As I read the news stories of delayed product launches, losses and job cuts, I looked back on another story I read back in June of 2011. It was about an open letter to the RIM executives from an employee who had lost confidence in his employer and felt he had to go public to get their attention. The stock was worth about $28.30 that day and as of this writing, one year later it’s worth about $7.60.

The letter starts off by saying that he has lost confidence in the company he works for and his passion has been sapped. He goes on to explain why and offers some ideas on how to fix it.

Now, a year later it seems to me to indicate exactly why things have gone so wrong for RIM. RIM’s failures are not unique to just them rather, many large companies that become complacent; thinking they are too big to fail share these traits. You would think that the leaders of today’s large enterprises would understand that no company is too big to fail with big banks going under and companies like Kodak going bankrupt. These big companies fail for many of the same traits of failure and poor leadership.

I’ve focused on a few key quotes from the letter that I think were interesting and very telling. This first quote sounds like a cry for help to a parent who is too focused on themselves.

“Reach out to all employees asking them on how we can make RIM better. Encourage input from ground-level teams—without repercussions—to seek out honest feedback and really absorb it.”

Culture is a companies “family” values. In most cases when a company is failing, the culture has a big part in either pushing it further into the abyss or pulling it out and turning it around.

“The culture at RIM does not allow us to speak openly without having to worry about the career-limiting effects.”

It seems that RIM, never fixed it’s culture and you can see that in the project and product launch delays and the feeling this guy had that he couldn’t talk openly with management. How can a company succeed when people fear losing their job for speaking up?

Closed doors = closed minds. Leadership that doesn’t openly invite it’s employees to challenge them and their decisions is not building a team culture. This is a trust issue as well as a ego issue. I suspect that the culture at RIM was the first big blow and the warring that the leaders should have seen and acted on. When you lose your employees, everything else will come tumbling down eventually.

“Teams still aren’t talking together properly, no one is making or can make critical decisions, all the while everyone is working crazy hours and still far behind.”

Leadership reflects attitude. If the leaders aren’t talking or sharing or inviting feedback, communication breaks down at all levels and this behaviour spreads like a wild fire. This quote tells me that no one could make decisions other than the executives and when executives need to make all the decisions, there is simply not enough time in the day to make well educated and informed decisions. The result is either bad decisions or worse, no decisions at all.

“Also an important note regarding our marketing: a product’s technical superiority does not equal desire, and therefore sales… How many Linux laptops are getting sold? How did Betamax go? My mother wants an iPad and iPhone because it is simple and appeals to her. Powerful multitasking doesn’t.”

Today’s Product management mantra is all about the end user. Focus on the user, understand them and solve problems for them. Simple equation but hard to change if the leadership doesn’t get it. RIM would mock the competition rather than try to learn from them. Seems like they were so busy mocking them, they forgot to see why they were doing so well.

“we simply must stop shipping incomplete products that aren’t ready for the end user.”

In the letter, the employee says they need to “cut projects to the bone”, indicating that RIM was trying to do too much. Spreading resources too thin, doing a lot of things but not doing anything very well. This was a lack of focused vision translated into many visions, projects and end states.

“We urgently need to invest like we never have before in becoming developer friendly.”

“No one in RIM dares to tell management how bad our tools still are.”

If you look at IOS and Android, the platform leaders they viewed the development community at large as an extension of their organization. Enabling the millions of developers with tools they love to use to add to your products seems like a no brainer yet, this is another place RIM has failed. Again, the sense from the employee I get is that   the leadership culture was closed off to criticism and being challenged.

Management

Just because someone may have been a loyal RIM employee for 7 years, it doesn’t mean they are the best Manager / Director / VP for that role.”

This line says a lot. Promoting within is when a company is following through on the promise made to an employee to keep them at your company and “grow” their career. Sounds good and it can work in some cases, but it’s not necessarily good for the business. The point is, rock star developers don’t usually translate to rock star managers and the inverse is true too.

Hire people for the job that needs to be done and don’t favor internal employees over outside candidates. New people bring new perspectives and it’s new perspectives that help innovation.

The last thing the employee says is this;

“The timing is perfect to seriously evaluate at our position and make these major changes. We can do it!”

His motives throughout the letter was to help the company he worked for, make it better, turn it around and help it rise to the top again. Unfortunately, A year later, I feel his honest cry for help went nowhere and that RIM continues to spiral down because it hasn’t been able to lead their people.

8 ways to fail in a leadership role

#1 Don’t have a vision or goals

Having a vision is for losers that want to succeed. It’s better to run around like a chicken with it’s head cut off than it is to have a vision of where you are going. Visions only bring teams together to accomplish big things. If that’s what your trying to avoid, definitely skip the vision creation step.

#2 Leave your passion at home

Passion is for romance movies and sissies and is better left outside of work. No one wants to see you excited about working let alone excited about your job. Better to have an attitude or chip on your shoulder so people stay away. Passion is addictive so be careful. Any sign of passion and you may just get a few followers. Yikes!

#3 Procrastinate and don’t make decisions

Although making decisions seems important on the surface, It’s not if you want to be a bad leader. People like to be kept on their toes by those that lead them and keep them guessing. It’s a good way to waste everyone’s time and make people frustrated and besides, people love to have to ask for something 3,4 or even 5 times. Remember no decision is a decision, just not a popular one.

#4 Build a reputation where people don’t want to work with or for you.

If everyone thinks your a jerk, chances are you won’t get bothered by many people let alone have to lead them. This leaves time for surfing the internet and other non work related activities. This one works really well over time. As the knowledge of you being a jerk travels, less and less people will want to interact with you and more people will resist you and even sabotage you. This is one of the best ways to fail in leadership roles. Piss people off and you will succeed at failure very quickly

#5 Hide in the ivory tower

Closed door policies are the best ones for leaders that want to fail. You don’t want all the underlings in your company just walking in to your office talking to you telling you about ideas to save money or make money. The worst leaders hide in their office and only come out to complain about some injustice of some failure that someone else did. The more people see you as an untouchable god, the better.

#6 Command and Control

Command and control leadership has been successful for years in the military. It’s simple, when people don’t do what they are told, you treat them like crap until they comply. The name says it all, Command and Control your team and watch the resentment grow. You will be on your way to failing as a leader before you know it.

#7 Don’t share your knowledge

You worked hard to get to where you are and sharing your knowledge and experience just may make people like you and want you to lead them. Don’t do it. Young people like leadership and want to be mentored but why would you want to do that.

#8 Resist Change

Although change is the only constant in life and in business. You must resist it at every turn. Changes cost money and generally make things better but if you want to fail as a leader, you must no accept change in any way.

There you have it. My 8 ways to fail in a leadership role. Do these things and you will fail very fast. Do the opposite and you will most likely succeed as a leader.

Do you have any great tips on how to fail as a leader? I would love to hear about them. Post a comment below.

Using Twitter to help you find jobs

A co-worker of mine showed me this simple way to stay in the loop when it comes to finding a new job. It’s so simple, I dont’ know why I didn’t think of it sooner.

  1. First you need a Twitter account. If you don’t have one, get a free one here.
  2. Once that’s setup you need to get a Twitter client like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. The reason is that you can setup a stream based on search criteria.
  3. Create an account on one of these services and link your Twitter account. If you don’t know how to use these tools, there’s lots of help available on their web sites.
  4. Now, what you want to do is setup a search stream for the job title and location that you are looking for work. For this example, I’m looking for Business Analyst jobs in Vancouver so I create a search stream with “Business Analyst” Vancouver and save it.
  5. If there are jobs out there, you should start to see a bunch of Tweets with links to job postings.
  6. Set up as many keywords as you like for the types of jobs your looking for.

It’s that simple. Now the new stream you just setup will flow with tweets that contain the keywords “Business Analyst” Vancouver.

Happy job hunting! 

** Update Aug 6th, 2012
Just read a article today about this subject in Business In Vancouver. Ranstand did a survey which shows some relevant and  interesting stats about using social media for job Hunting.

The survey found that online jobboards (72%) and newspaper advertisements (55%) are still the most common places Canadians look for jobs, with only 22% of Canadians using social media sites in their job hunting.

22% is a good sized chunk and i’ll bet it continues to grow as it takes market share from the newspaper.

Enterprise Change must follow: People – Process – Technology

If you have found yourself in a situation where the process seems to change, accountabilities are uncertain and deadlines are missing, then perhaps you have a people, process and technology problem. Getting all 3 aligned is absolutely essential to ensuring any change management process will work. And they have to be resolved in that order.

1. People – what are the key issues: who owns the process, who is involved, what are their roles, are they committed to improving it and working together and importantly are they prepared to do the work to fix the problem.

2. Process – a process can be defined as starting with a trigger event that creates a chain of actions that results in something being prepared for a customer of that process. Starting at high level and identifying the key big steps is important to see the process from end to end. Then moving into more detail to capture the various layers involved and various exceptions. Focussing on the high frequency (Pareto principle) transactions can have significant benefit to standardizing the process. But also remember that it can be the non-standard transactions where service is slipping most or the potential for significant failure in the process may exist.

3. Technology – Now that people are aligned, and the process developed and clarified, technology can be applied to ensure consistently in application of the process and to provide the thin guiding rails to keep the process on track – to make it easier to follow the process than not do so.