Thursday, August 28, 2014

Unraveling the Talent Myth

In July 2002 the New Yorker published an article called TheTalent Myth by Malcolm Gladwell. In this article Gladwell explores the shortcomings of a widely recognized management system put forward by a management-consulting firm called McKinsey & Company who advocate a three-tiered management process known as differentiation and affirmation. In this process of differentiation and affirmation employee performance is rated resulting in each employee being placed in one of three categories A, B, and C. The A’s, or talent group, are to be challenged and given generous bonuses as well as new tasks, new responsibilities, and new titles. The B’s are to be encouraged and affirmed, whereas the lowly C’s need to be let go.

The Problem… or Problems

There are a couple of flaws in this way of thinking that seem obvious. First, is that managers are encouraged to engage employees to do what the employees want and not what the employees are good at or have experience doing. Another flaw, which Gladwell points out, is that companies who are prisoner to the talent myth often move employees into new jobs with greater frequency than companies that are not tied to the same mindset, often spending less than a year at a particular job within the company. The result is that one employee’s range of responsibilities is changing so frequently that it becomes impossible to judge true performance.

Lastly, there is little correlation between a person’s IQ and job performance. The reason for this is the fact that IQ doesn’t measure a person’s competency to what Gladwell calls “tacit knowledge”. For Gladwell, it’s the difference between a school environment, where everything an individual is rated on involves working by themselves (writing an exam or an essay), versus a corporate environment where virtually everything is accomplished by coordinating many individuals around a singular goal.

Let the System Shine

It was McKinsey & Company’s belief that the best and most successful companies were those that adopted the talent mindset – the belief that the intelligence of a company was rooted in the intelligence of its employees. Successful companies were those that went out of their way to seek what they perceived as talent and that fostered that talent by molding their company to the interests of their most talented individuals.

As Gladwell points out, some of the most successful companies were those where the system, not its employees, was the star. As Gladwell writes:

“The talent myth assumes that people make organizations smart. More often than not, it’s the other way around.”

You Learn More on the First Day

My own experience has been that no amount of schooling has ever adequately prepared me, or anyone I know, for what it’s like to actually be out on the job. I’ve heard the old adage “I learned more on the first day on the job than I did in 4 years of university” so often that it’s become cliché. Coming out of college labeled as talent is a great thing and is capable of opening a lot of doors, but talent in school is only one type of talent.

The people I am constantly seeking are those that have broader, even hidden, talents. Someone who graduated from university with less than stellar marks, but did so while holding down a part-time job, or involving themselves in a bevy of extra-curricular activities, is just as impressive as an ‘A’ student. Also, with so much time spent together on the job I tend to try to surround myself with people who have complimentary talents or people that I genuinely like. Operating a business, especially a small business, becomes a shared experience and the people you work with become your family. No matter what might be on their CV, if everybody in the company is not on the same page, it will not be successful.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Part-Time Entrepreneurship

If you’re not ready to take the leap and quit your current job to run your own business full-time, you can still enjoy entrepreneurship on a part-time basis while maintaining the security of being an employee with an income. But, to do this, you need to keep the following points in mind:

Say Goodbye to Personal Time

Having a full-time job and a part-time business leaves very little time for yourself. You’ll need to make sure you can handle putting most of your time an effort into work and this will mean you’ll probably have to skip out on vacations or even spending a relaxing weekend with friends and family! But that doesn’t mean you’re cut off from the rest of the world – just plan your down time wisely. But there’s always an upside. Get your friends and family involved in the business by giving them tasks based on their skills. This gives you the benefit of “free” help for your business while spending time with those you love.

Don’t Let it Interfere With Other Responsibilities

It’s important to keep your two jobs separate and not let them overlap too much. Don’t risk losing your current job by working on your side project during work hours. Try to keep your mind on the job at hand and leave your business to off-hours. This may mean that phone calls and emails have to go unanswered until after 5. Keep yourself disciplined by scheduling blocks of time to complete your own business tasks in the off-hours to keep your mind on your job when you’re at work.

Use Technology Wisely

There are so many websites out there to make life easier for the small business owner. Whether it be setting up e-commerce on Etsy or Shopify, building a custom website through SquareSpace, or getting payment processing on Square, all of this can be done on your own for a lot less than it would cost to hire a professional. Do some research online to find software to help you manage your business. It may take a bit more time to set up, but it will save you money in the long run and will be much easier to maintain over time.

Be Patient!

Anything part-time is going to take a little longer. But be patient – it won’t always be part-time! Count yourself lucky to have a source of income as you work towards your goal of being a full-time entrepreneur and use this goal as a motivator to work hard during your spare time to achieve your goals. The harder you work in the early stages, the better the pay off will be in the end! 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Skill Building on the Commute

Last week proved to be revelatory as, for the first time in over five years, I was forced to drive to my workspace. The circumstances that made the drive necessary are inconsequential, but as I stared at the city skyline from the highway with the car idling in park, and being forced to breathe in exhaust fumes on a particularly smoggy summer day from all the congestion, I learned a few things.

Practice Gratitude – and math!
 
The first thing that occurred to me as I watched a particularly ornery man make obscene gestures and honk at a car that had changed lanes in front of him while moving at a mere 5 kilometers an hour, was that I was so thankful that this was not my life. My being on that stretch of road during rush hour was a rare inconvenience, but for so many people it is the norm. In total, I lost over 3 hours of my day in traffic. If that pattern was a daily certainty it would mean roughly 15 hours a week, 60 hours a month, and, based on a 50-week per year work cycle, 750 hours every year lost in traffic. Even if I retired early at 55, a 30-year professional career could mean as much as 22,500 hours of my life spent behind the wheel bumper-to-bumper with other cars.

This is where my mind wandered on that fateful day, wondering how different my life would be if I hadn’t developed my career in such a way as to be able to do my work from anywhere. In case anyone is doing the math, because yes, that’s the kind of time I had while in traffic, those 22,500 hours could represent and, are equal to: 937.5 days, or just over 2.5 years of your life. I wondered what my price would be to devote that much of my life to a daily commute.

Learn a Language

For a while I couldn’t get over how depressing the situation I was in was. But then I decided to look at it a little differently. Although the most important thing is to always be mindful when behind the wheel and to arrive at your intended destination safely, it’s also very possible to do something passively, and productive, while you drive. I figure most people listen to the radio just as I did, but when I heard the same song twice during just one leg of the commute I thought that the practice couldn’t be sustainable.

I’d be hard pressed to recall any of the facts from any of the courses during my four years at university, but one thing that I do recall is that lectures were always one hour and a half – much like the commute. Audio learning CDs and downloads are now available for just about any language you can think of. Bilingualism is becoming a rare skill and it’s hard to think of a better way to improve one’s marketability than by learning a foreign language. Better yet, it can be the gateway to many life altering and rewarding opportunities as languages can take you around the world.

The Learning Doesn’t Stop at Languages

Over the past decade podcasting has become an enormously popular way to share and absorb information. Anyone with an itunes account can download engaging and informative podcasts about everything from health, to history, to science and technology, sports, politics, and spirituality. There is truly no shortage of topics and ideas to stimulate your mind if you only gave them a chance. I would wager that any devoted listener to Dan Carlin’s hardcore history could easily become conversational about world history with any university tenured history professor in just a couple of months. Many podcasts are free, or cost as little as $0.99. You can even download university lectures from some of the world’s most renowned universities. You don’t get course credit, but it doesn’t set you back nearly as much as actually attending the classes.

Dictate the Next Great Novel

What an age we live in! With the right set of tools you can actually dictate all of your ideas onto a voice recorder while at the wheel and then have a computer program turn your dictation into text. A little further down the line that text can become a manuscript, and, if you play your cards right, that manuscript can become a bestseller with movie rights, and can be your ticket out of traffic forever.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Finding New Ways To Network

Finding new clients and attracting new customers doesn’t have to be all about advertising your business. Sometimes it’s about selling yourself through networking. But networking events tend to get a bad rap – most people don’t look forward to boring business events full of schmoozing and faking interest in others. But attending those awful local events isn’t the only way to network. If you cringe when you hear the mention of “networking”, why not try a new way to create business relationships?

Start a Meetup

Networking events are said to be the best way to meet new contacts and create business relationships. With so many to choose from, it can be hard to know which will be most beneficial to your needs. So why not start your own? Create your own event and send invites on social media to reach out to people you already know and ask those people to pass along the invite to others who might be interested. Make sure you find an open and comfortable space and have refreshments available to make your event feel friendly and welcoming. As the host, you’ll be responsible for making your event is successful so go out of your way to introduce yourself to as many people as possible and ask lots of questions (while networking the whole time)! Starting your own meetup allows you to create the ideal networking event – not the stuffy boring kind that everyone dreads! If you’d rather do something informal, try starting a book club or a wine tasting event. This will provide a more intimate environment for discussion and, with the right group, can turn into potential relationship building in the future.

Find a Volunteer Opportunity

Not only does volunteer work give you a feeling of great satisfaction, it’s a fantastic way to meet like-minded individuals who are looking to give back to the community. Being in a group who are passionate about volunteering can really bring people together and eventually forge close bonds. There’s a sense of trust established as people are working towards a greater good. Another way to volunteer and get your work noticed is to offer your services for free to a non-profit.

Have Your Business Card Handy


You never know when you’ll run into someone who could become a potential client, so always have your business cards ready to hand out. If a casual conversation at a pub turns to work related discussion, providing a business card with your answer to “what do you do?” can turn a chance meeting into a future business venture. The business card might get tucked away, but is a good reminder for when services might be needed later or it can be passed along to a friend. To make a larger impact, splurge on an interesting and creative design for your cards as a statement piece.

Strengthen Your Existing Connections

Sometimes it can be hard to find the time to keep in touch with co-workers, employees, or clients from the past. But reaching out every once in a while is a great way to keep your name (and business) top of mind. A simple email to catch up or even a social media message keeps the relationship even after years have passed. LinkedIn provides a great way to keep contact information of those you’ve worked with in the past, and makes it easy to find those you may have lost contact with. You’ll also have an easier time meeting new contacts simply through keeping up with your old ones. Now that’s networking!