Monday, January 27, 2014

How was your day?

I read an article recently about the importance of asking meaningful questions that show you really care - and are paying attention. Specifically, avoid "generic" questions such as "how was your day". Instead, ask "how did your math quiz go?'. Or, even more specifically, "did the trick you learned to solve factorization problems work out in today's quiz?". Equally important, engage with the answers. Does the following sound familiar: "How was your day?". "OK". End of the conversation. Instead, how about "What did you work on during your tennis practice today?". "My backhand"."So, how is it coming along? You got the top spin down now?"... You get the idea, I hope... Better to have fewer but more meaningful and engaging conversations than frequent but superficial ones.

A few days after I discussed this with the boys Nico gave Cindy a hard time for asking him how his day had been. Oooppss :-).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wipe your B... with your Left Hand

I sprained my Right thumb mountain biking and have to wear a brace for a few weeks (should have stuck to kitesurfing! At least the brace is waterproof :-). To my surprise, the simple act of wiping my b... turned out to be difficult to do with my Left hand. I guess that after doing something for 45+ years one way my brain is struggling to do it differently. Alejandro also had to wear a brace in his Right hand recently but didn't encounter the same difficulty. Maybe it is because he has only been doing it for 15 years. Maybe I am just clumsy. Fortunately, I picked it up pretty quickly. I am amazed at the power of "muscle memory" both as a formula to do things the same way as before (be this right or wrong) and as a mechanism to learn new things.

I challenged the boys to do something different next month from the way they always do it. Ale thought that spreading his cream cheese with his Left hand might be a challenge. I suggested looking for a mental approach or formula they always use. Nico mentioned he always solves word problems the same way and would experiment changing it.

It is good to shake things up every now and then. Don't wait until your Right hand is in a brace to do it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

90% of the way there... not!

Paco spent most of the weekend working on his science fare project. By Friday night he had said that he was almost done, yet he was still scrambling to glue the last charts Monday morning as we got into the car. This reminded me of many software projects that I have been involved with in which the team declares they are 90% done, only to need 50% more time to complete the project. It seems the last 10% is often the hardest...

At least we can now "ship" many products before they are 100% ready - and fix them later with remote updates. Unlike the old days of pressing software on CD-ROMs... Too bad school projects can't be "updated" after the fact! BTW: Alejandro made the observation that it was ironic that, given the focus their school has on technology, e.g., every student has an iPad, they are required to put their entire science project on a big and bulky cardboard...

Anyway, beware of the 90% done syndrome.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Nothing to Lose

Huge success stories often involve bold moves. This is the case with individuals as well as organization. How many of the most successful entrepreneurs dropped out of a prestigious university to pursue their vision? Or invested their last penny, and then some, into their company? The same happens with companies, which sometimes put their entire future on the line to pursue a risky strategy.

These bold bets are much easier to make when you have "nothing to lose". Dropping out of Harvard, Stanford or MIT is certainly bold, yet compare that with the challenge faced by someone with a "steady job", spouse, kids and a mortgage. If this person leaves his job for a start-up that fails, he might lose his house and have to relocate his family. In other words, he has a lot more to lose (at least on the surface). Same goes for companies: a small company that "bets the farm" on a new product might go under, but compare that with a multi-billion dollar corporation with thousands of employees and shareholders. The later has a lot more downside.

The reality is of course more complicated than this. A large corporation might have a lot to lose if a bold bet goes wrong, yet it might also have a lot to lose if they don't innovate and evolve (just take a look at Kodak). Same goes for an individual, who might end up very unhappy if their corporate job is not satisfying - or goes away. A few takeaways I shared with the boys:

- Take advantage of situations in which you have nothing to lose. Say you take a risky job after college and it doesn't work out? Well, you just go get another job!
- Recognize that that you, or your organization, has an advantage over those who have a lot to lose - and hence behave conservatively. Having nothing to lose is a huge competitive advantage.
- If you, or your organization, does have a lot to lose, remember that "playing it safe" is not without risks. The risks tend to be longer term ones, but not less serious. Enduring organizations often reinvent themselves with bold moves and great "risks".

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Political Entrepreneur

We talk a fair amount at home about entrepreneurs. I frequently tell the boys about the entrepreneurs that I meet. Today we spoke about a different kind of entrepreneur from the typical Silicon Valley one. We spoke about our friend Leopoldo Lopez, who came over for dinner last night with his family. Leopoldo is the former mayor of Chacao (a large municipality in Caracas) and the leader of one of the main opposition parties in Venezuela.

We first met Leopoldo, and his wife Lilian, at Crissy Field. Turns out that they are kitesurfers like us. They were visiting San Francisco and a common Venezuelan friend put us in touch. We met at the beach and went kiting under the Golden Gate Bridge. Had a really good time, in spite of the fact that Leopoldo had to be rescued by the Coast Guard after kiting into a wind hole :-).

What makes Leopoldo a political entrepreneur? He has founded or co-founded two political parties (Primera Justicia & Voluntad Popular). This is the equivalent of starting companies rather than joining established ones. His current party did extremely well in last month's elections in Venezuela, taking away 17 cities away from the ruling government party (including in some of the government strongest areas, like Barinas). They achieved this with a strategy and execution that remind me of a Sillicon Valley start-up. They focused on the Venezuelan plains and Leopoldo spent months traveling through the key cities earning the support of their citizens. They tracked their performance analyzing which factors worked and which didn't.

Whatever your passion or your calling, you can be an entrepreneur.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Read the fine print

First day of classes for 2014! Started the year with a cautionary tale: a relative used to run a non-profit. While there she opened a credit card for the organization. Years later she left, moved and tried to lease a car. She got turned down for the lease. Turns out the organization had fallen behind on the credit card payments and my relative was personally responsible for it. She called the credit card company to explain that she no longer worked there but that did no good: she had signed on the doted line and assumed responsibility for the debt. The organization didn't have the cash available to pay the debt, so my relative had to pay it out of her own pocket to prevent her credit score and record from getting even worst (it had already been impacted).

Several lessons:

- Keep personal and professional finances separate. If you are assuming debt on behalf of an organization, make sure only the organization is responsible, not you personally.
- Remember that things can change significantly over time: maybe an organization has plenty of funds at one point and you don't think twice about assuming personal liability for its debts. But a few years later the organizations might have changed dramatically. The person you trust is no longer there... The business (and finances) might go South... Change is a constant.
- Have as much savings as possible for unexpected eventualities.
- Monitor your credit record.