Put up or shut up

 

Courtesy: https://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/10-things-julius-caesar-could-have-taught-us-about-business-leadership-marketing-and-even-social-media/

Here are a few lessons Gaius Julius Caesar might have taught us were he alive today.  He ultimately met a pretty brutal end, but until that point, the guy was so successful that his last name became synonymous with “Emperor”. (Point of note: the titles “Czar” and “Kaiser” come from the name  ”Caesar.”)

1. Six inches of point beats two feet of blade.

The Roman legions conquered most of the known world using javelins and the standard issue short-sword called a Gladius. Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, the gladius was a stabbing weapon, not a hacking/slicing weapon. Compared to long swords and battle axes wielded by barbarian hordes, the gladius seemed a child’s weapon: Short and dagger-like, not particularly good at slicing. Yet its six inches of stabbing point beat its longer, scarier counterparts in battle. Why? Because the Roman legions were trained to use it properly.

What the Roman legions knew (and the barbarian hordes – including my own people, the Gauls didn’t) is that flailing wildly with long, heavy weapons forces you to commit too much to each attack. Swinging a heavy weapon opens up your guard just long enough for a legionnaire to thrust his gladius from behind a wall of shields and take you down. Not to mention the energy efficiency of a quick thrust vs. a wide swing. Legions used less energy in battle than their ill-trained counterparts, which allowed them to fight longer, thus giving them the ability to win against 2:1 and sometimes 3:1 odds.

Sometimes, the difference between effectiveness and failure lies in how expertly a tool is used. Bigger and better doesn’t guarantee success. Fluency and expertise in the use of very specific tools, however, can turn an apparent disadvantage into a win. A well trained operator with a simple  tool can be much more effective than a less well trained operator with an expensive, more impressive tool. Never take training, focus and discipline for granted.

2. People want to be led, not controlled.

While Julius Caesar was in command of his legions, he was hailed as a hero. His men would have followed him anywhere (and did). Why? Because he led them to victory and glory.

When he returned to Rome after defeating his rival Pompey, Caesar tried to rule Rome as a dictator. That didn’t work so well. In shifting from leadership to absolute control, he stepped over a line that the people of Rome – and even his closest allies – refused to cross with him. The result: Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators bent on making an example of his death to any future would-be dictators. The lesson: Leadership = good. Control = bad.

Leadership implies direction. It promises a better tomorrow. It engages and fascinates and inspires. Control, however, is a crushing weight on liberty that no man ever accepts freely. Control breeds resentment and hatred. It fosters discord and revolution. Be aware of the difference and how your leadership/management style is perceived by the people under your charge. Aim to lead, never to control.

3. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

A) Everyone loves a winner. The ingredients of leadership may be a brew of courage, vision and intelligence, but its flavor and appeal are the wins. It isn’t enough to be a leader. You have to prove it again and again by pulling off some key victories. Winning gives you something to talk about. Not winning means you should talk less and work more.

B) Brevity goes hand in hand with clarity. It doesn’t get much clearer than “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Even in twitterland, that leaves you more than enough room to add a hyperlink to a PDF that elaborates on such a succinct report.

4. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

Books are nice. They’re a start. But at some point, you have to DO the thing. You have to build the business. Grow the business. Win market share. Outpace your competitors. Recruit the best minds. Create the culture-changing products. Fix the accelerator glitch. Stop the giant underwater oil leak. Rejuvenate your brand. Redefine your market. This stuff isn’t theoretical. You have to roll up your sleeves and learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.

Julius Caesar learned soldiering with the rank and file of the Roman legions. He fought in the front lines, shoulder to shoulder with legionnaires. He slept with them, ate with them, drank with them, marched with them and bled with them. Had he not spent years in the trenches doing the work himself, he would not have been the military leader he became. ”Experience is the teacher of all things.”

The subtleties of experience trump the best theoretical education in the world. Books will only get you started. You have to go the other 90% of the way through hard work. There’s just no getting around it. If you can’t learn how to be a race car driver by reading books, you certainly can’t learn how to lead an army of run a business that way either.

As for Social Media “certifications,” forget about it. Training (even what I can teach you at Red Chair events) will only get you so far. The only way to get good at something is to do it, and do it and do it until it becomes second-nature. Experience trumps instruction.

Say it with me, out loud so the whole class can hear you: There are no shortcuts.

5. “Cowards die many times before their actual deaths.”

Be bold. Take chances. Don’t hide. Every time you don’t speak up in a meeting, every time you let some jerk at the office take credit for your work, every time you hold off on releasing a product or green-lighting a bold campaign, you are building your house with faulty, weakened bricks.

Winning, being successful, beating the competition isn’t achieved by playing defensively. Every win is a succession of decisions that imply risk and take courage. Likewise, every failure is a succession of decisions marred by fear and cowardice. Learn this.

The same rules apply to your online presence: If you want to find your voice in the blogosphere and on the twitternets, have the courage of your convictions. Speak your mind, even if what you have to say may earn you a few frowns. It is easy to feel pressured by some well-followed “personalities” to keep your mouth shut or not speak against the grain. Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Your opinion is as valuable as theirs, and your point of view just as worthy of expression. Being blackballed by a handful of self-important bloggers isn’t the end of the world. Better to know who your friends and enemies are than to live in fear of retaliation. Speak your mind. Find strength in courage.

Build your house, one courageous decision and action at a time.

6. “I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome.

Some folks are just happy to be there. Others are okay with being top 5. Others yet are content to be #2. Leaders don’t fit into any of these categories. They want to be #1. It’s a personality trait, nothing more. It can’t be faked or learned. You’re either this type of person or you aren’t. Bill Gates wasn’t interested in being #20, so he started Microsoft. Steve Jobs: Same story. Sir Richard Branson: idem. The great leaders of history, whether in antiquity or in our time all share a similar personality trait: #2 is not an option.

Same thing with companies and brands: Would you rather be #1 in a niche market or #3 in a broad market? Which holds the greatest value? Ask Apple where they went with that. Ask Microsoft where they went with it. It isn’t a question of which is the better choice. The question is more personal: Which is the better choice for you?

Note: Incidentally, in the world of Social Media platforms, there is no #2. You’re either #1 in your category, or you are on your way out. In this world, velocity and scale win.

7. “It is not these well-fed long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the hungry-looking.”

The competition is the hungry kid with an idea, ambition and nothing to lose. Thirty years ago, they were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Five years ago, they were Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Who’s next? Who will crush Big Advertising? Big Web? Big Print? Big Software? Big Consulting? Big Energy?

If you’re the industry leader, don’t look to your biggest competitors. Instead, look to the kids with the brains, the vision and the huevos to redefine your category and make you obsolete. Likewise, if you’re one of those kids, don’t let the big dogs intimidate you. If you have a better idea, fight for it. Make it happen. Don’t settle for what’s comfortable. Fight. The old guy playing golf with his CEO buddies every other day, he’s given up.

In the long run, my money is always on the hungry young wolf, not the fat one taking a nap in the sun.

8. “It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.”

It is better to be a pioneer than a student. Go where no one has gone. Until Julius Caesar marched into Gaul and made it a Roman territory, it was a wild and savage land Rome feared would never be tamed. He had a vision of what could be, and he made that vision a reality.

Henry Ford had a vision. So did Walt Disney. So did the United States of America’s Founding Fathers. So did Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz (yes, I know, he wasn’t the original founder, but he was the one who made Starbucks “Starbucks”), Bill Bowerman, and Branson. Every brand of note, from the Roman Republic to The Beatles focused on creating and building, not just on learning. Learn all you want, but then do something with what you’ve learned. Contribute. Create something of value. Even if it is just a #chat, an idea, a YouTube video, a blog post, a presentation or an app. Create something. Anything.

9. Ask everything of your people, but reward them like kings.

The men who served in Julius Caesar’s legions and survived to the end retired wealthy. Never forget whose work really made you successful. Your employees, your friends, your business partners, your customers… Everyone who contributed to your success deserves more reward than you can afford. never lose sight of that. Executives who treat lowly employees like cattle are epitomes of stupidity and arrogance. In sharp contrast, executives who treat every employee with respect and gratitude are all win in my book. Strive to be the latter, and don’t skimp on rewards. Look a little further than the proverbial gold watch when trying to reward loyalty. Rise above institutional apathy. Yes you can.

Same with twitter followers and blog readers. If they buy your book, if they come see you speak, if they help you in any way, take the time to do something for them. Strive to give back more than you receive.

10. “The die is cast.”

Make decisions. Live with those decisions. It’s that simple. Once you’ve committed yourself and your business to a course of action, to a play, to a tactical path, you’re committed. The time for doubt or indecision is gone. Stay the course and brave the storm. It’s all you can do.

Leadership isn’t for everybody. It takes nerves of steel, sometimes. It’s hard on the soul.

When you fail: Accept responsibility for the failure, learn from it, dust yourself off, and try again. No need to dwell on what you can’t change. Focus on what you can change.

When you succeed: Reward your people and give them all the credit. Don’t stop and rest, though. When you’re winning is when you should keep advancing. Winning is 100%  about momentum. Never forget that

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SMB Open Source Usage

Here are a few of the findings derived from Bluehost data (an EIG company) and follow-on research:

  • 60% of web hosting usage is by SMBs, 71% if you include non-profits. Only 22% of hosted sites are for personal use.
  • WordPress is a far more important open source product than most people give it credit for. In the SMB hosting market, it is as widely used as MySQL and PHP, far ahead of Joomla and Drupal, the other leading content management systems.
  • Languages commonly used by high-tech startups, such as Ruby and Python, have little usage in the SMB hosting market, which is dominated by PHP for server-side scripting and JavaScript for client-side scripting.
  • Open source hosting alternatives have at least a 2:1 cost advantage relative to proprietary solutions.

Reforming Education

Courtesy: Forbes.com

America’s last competitive advantage — its ability to innovate — is at risk as a result of the country’s lackluster education system, according to research by Harvard Innovation Education Fellow Tony Wagner.

Taking the stage at Skillshare’s Penny Conference, Wagner pointed out the skills it takes to become an innovator, the downfalls of America’s current education system, and how parents, teachers, mentors, and employers can band together to create innovators.

American schools educate to fill children with knowledge — instead they should be focusing on developing students’ innovation skills and motivation to succeed, he says:

“Today knowledge is ubiquitous, constantly changing, growing exponentially… Today knowledge is free. It’s like air, it’s like water. It’s become a commodity… There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.”

Knowledge that children are encouraged to soak up in American schools — the memorization of planets, state capitals, the Periodic Table of Elements — can only take students so far. But “skill and will” determine a child’s ability to think outside of the box, he says.

Over two year of research involving interviews with executives, college teachers, community leaders, and recent graduates, Wagner defined the skills needed for Americans to stay competitive in an increasingly globalized workforce. As lined out in his book, “The Global Achievement Gap,” that set of core competencies that every student must master before the end of high school is:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving (the ability to ask the right questions)
  • Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Effective written and oral communication
  • Curiosity and imagination

For his latest book, “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World,” Wagner has extended his studies to address the problem of how we teach students these skills. He has come to the conclusion that our country’s economic problems are based in its education system.

“We’ve created an economy based on people spending money they do not have to buy things they may not need, threatening the planet in the process,” he says. “We have to transition from a consumer-driven economy to an innovation-driven economy.”

In an effort to discern teaching and parenting patterns, Wagner interviewed innovators in their 20s, followed by interviews with their parents and the influential teachers and mentors in the students’ lives. He found stunning similarities between the teaching styles and goals he encountered with these influential teachers at all levels of education and concludes, “The culture of schooling as we all know it is radically at odds with the culture of learning that produces innovators.” He identified five ways in which America’s education system is stunting innovation:

1. Individual achievement is the focus: Students spend a bulk of their time focusing on improving their GPAs — school is a competition among peers. “But innovation is a team sport,” says Wagner. “Yes, it requires some solitude and reflection, but fundamentally problems are too complex to innovate or solve by oneself.”

2. Specialization is celebrated and rewarded: High school curriculum is structured using Carnegie units, a system that is 125 years old, says Wagner. He says the director of talent at Google once told him, “If there’s one thing that educators need to understand, it’s that you can neither understand nor solve problems within the context and bright lines of subject content.” Wagner declares, “Learning to be an innovator is about learning to cross disciplinary boundaries and exploring problems and their solutions from multiple perspectives.”

3. Risk aversion is the norm: “We penalize mistakes,” says Wagner. “The whole challenge in schooling is to figure out what the teacher wants. And the teachers have to figure out what the superintendent wants or the state wants. It’s a compliance-driven, risk-averse culture.” Innovation, on the other hand, is grounded in taking risks and learning via trial and error. Educators could take a note from design firm IDEO with its mantra of “Fail early, fail often,” says Wagner. And at Stanford’s Institute of Design, he says they are considering ideas like, “We’re thinking F is the new A.” Without failure, there is no innovation.

4. Learning is profoundly passive: For 12 to 16 years, we learn to consume information while in school, says Wagner. He suspects that our schooling culture has actually turned us into the “good little consumers” that we are. Innovative learning cultures teach about creating, not consuming, he says.

5. Extrinsic incentives drive learning: “Carrots and sticks, As and Fs,” Wagner remarks. Young innovators are intrinsically motivated, he says. They aren’t interested in grading scales and petty reward systems. Parents and teachers can encourage innovative thinking by nurturing the curiosity and inquisitiveness of young people, Wagner says. As he describes it, it’s a pattern of “play to passion to purpose.” Parents of innovators encouraged their children to play in more exploratory ways, he says. “Fewer toys, more toys without batteries, more unstructured time in their day.” Those children grow up to find passions, not just academic achievement, he says. “And that passion matures to a profound sense of purpose. Every young person I interviewed wants to make a difference in the world, put a ding in the universe.”

“”We have to transition to an innovation-driven culture, an innovation-driven society,” says Wagner. “A consumer society is bankrupt — it’s not coming back. To do that, we’re going to have to work with young people — as parents, as teachers, as mentors, and as employers — in very different ways. They want to, you want to become innovators. And we as a country need the capacity to solve more different kinds of problems in more ways. It requires us to have a very different vision of education, of teaching and learning for the 21st century. It requires us to have a sense of urgency about the problem that needs to be solved.”

Wagner is not suggesting we change a few processes and update a few manuals. He says, “The system has become obsolete. It needs reinventing, not reforming.”

PRINCIPLES

  1. ENTREPRENEURS ARE EVERWHERE

    You don’t have to work in a garage to be in a startup. Read More

  2. ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS MANAGEMENT

    A startup is an institution, not just a product, so it requires management, a new kind of management specifically geared to its context. Read More

  3. VALIDATED LEARNING

    Startups exist not to make stuff, make money, or serve customers. They exist to learn how to build a sustainable business. This learning can be validated scientifically, by running experiments that allow us to test each element of our vision. Read More

  4. INNOVATION ACCOUNTING

    To improve entrepreneurial outcomes, and to hold entrepreneurs accountable, we need to focus on the boring stuff: how to measure progress, how to setup milestones, how to prioritize work. This requires a new kind of accounting, specific to startups. Read More

  5. BUILD-MEASURE-LEARN

    The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere. All successful startup processes should be geared to accelerate that feedback loop. Read More

Learn How to Program

Computer programming is hard, especially if it’s not your code.

Well, if Khan Academy is any indication of this growing trend towards gamification of learning (read: badge system), we need to take into account that this is just one tool of learning. Khan Academy is centralized in that Salman Khan is the only one doing the video. There is no feedback system that can countercheck all of the videos he produced. It’s a one-way street instead of harnessing crowdsourcing.

On the other hand, there is Codecademy and its shortcomings:

But once you’re past that first lessons, then what? Codecademy offers an interesting UI, sure, but let’s not confuse interface and understanding, lessons and learning, engineering problems with education problems.

Audrey Watters basically points out the importance of context in solving problems. It is a valid concern, and should be addressed in Codecademy. Although not everything is negative. The good thing with Codecademy is that, you can create lessons that is subject to peer review and post it online. That is the power of crowdsourcing. For beginners or those who wonder how it’s like to program, Codecademy is a great start.

I wonder if Codecademy can use StackOverflow and GitHub as source of content for the programming lessons. That would make it triple awesome indeed.

For all naysayers about Codecademy or Khan Academy, put up or shut up.

Why Information Technology?

Click the pdf download here. You may edit, remix, email, distribute, share or upload this document to anyone anywhere as long as you don’t remove the credit and proper attribution to me.

Summer Engineering Institute

Courtesy:  LEAD Program

What is a LEAD Summer Engineering Institute?

During LEAD Summer Engineering Institutes, students reside and attend classes on-campus at 6 of the nation’s top engineering schools for 3 weeks. Summer Engineering Institutes provide diverse, high-achieving high school sophomores and juniors the opportunity to explore STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers.

Students are empowered to confidently make better informed decisions when choosing their university and career through exposure to various fields of engineering, such as mechanical, chemical, biomedical, civil and environmental, and electrical and computer.

How can I benefit from a LEAD Summer Engineering Institute?

The goal is to immerse students early in their academic development to the innumerable career opportunities in engineering and computer science, and to equip them with knowledge and expertise from our nation’s leading universities and corporations, empowering students to confidently make better informed decisions when choosing their university and career.

What are the objectives of this program?

  • Engage students in an intense, hands-on curriculum comprised of engineering instruction, computer programming, problem solving, and data analysis.
  • Provide students with first-hand knowledge from engineering professionals through mentoring and corporate site visits.
  • Develop students’ presentation and public speaking skills.
  • Impart principles of responsible leadership.
  • Engage students in cultural and social activities.
  • Prepare students for college.