It's Pronounced Chookshaw

The semi-professional blog of Albert Ciuksza Jr.

Month: September 2015

In a Jam

As I sit here typing this, a pot of ghost pepper jelly is getting to temperature on the stove, getting ready to be canned, labeled, and eventually handed out to family and friends over the holidays. My wife and I grew many of the ingredients in our backyard garden (supplemented with some not-worth-the-space green bell peppers), and I’ve developed reasonable canning instincts, if that’s even a thing.

My 24-year-old self would be embarrassed.

My 34-year-old self is quite content.

Like most, I had a 10-year plan early in my career. It’s cool to see how many of those things that I had hoped for my future self are now reality (marriage, getting my MBA, co-founding a successful start-up). I’m also humored (and humbled) by how much I didn’t achieve (amongst the incredibly long list are: running a marathon; getting my pilot’s license; and buying a private island [no, really, it’s on the list]).

Most striking have been the imperceptible-at-the-time ways that I’ve grown beyond the limits of what my 24-year-old self put on me. I’m less of a hot-head. I’m more patient and detail-oriented. I’m more open to negative feedback. I’m less worried about keeping score. I swear less. Ultimately, I’m someone I wouldn’t have entirely recognized (and not just because i’m going prematurely gray).

For those who are wringing their hands over Millennials, please stop. We’re capable of developing and testing plans, encountering challenges, and seeing the world a little differently on the other side. Some of that growth will be supported by people who are actively willing to guide us (that could be you!). More of that growth will come from people who serve as the anti-example. We’ll eventually figure out what works and adapt what we’ve learned to new situations. We’ll pick up skills that we didn’t even recognize existed. And in your honor, baby boomers, we’ll complain about how the generation behind us is lazy,  doesn’t know how to communicate, and is unprofessional; nothing like how we were when we started our careers.

Alright, now who wants some pepper jelly?

Let Me Google That For You

Has someone ever asked you a question that could have been easily answered with a quick Google search?

Let me introduce you to LMGTFY.com, short for “let me Google that for you.” The site’s existence is a snarky response to one of the diseases of the 21st-century workplace: people asking questions that could be easily answered themselves, usually by doing a quick Google search. If you’re the victim of a LMGTFY question — and have no concern for your relationship with the offending questioner — send them a LMGTFY link. They’ll think twice, and search at least once, before asking again.

(I really hate LMGTFY questions.)

My friends at Solutions 21 talk a lot about the gap between knowing and doing. That gap is growing ever wider, not because people know less (though research shows that access to the web makes you think you’re smarter than you are), but because answers to many questions are readily available. If you’re asking LMGTFY questions, or only providing operational-level answers, you’re allowing your work product to be a low-value commodity (and you’ll likely be rewarded in kind).

It’s fairly simple to deliver high-value answers. When I was a market research analyst, my boss would say, “I made the job title ‘analyst’ because I wanted you to interpret the data, otherwise I’d have called you a ‘market research reporter.’ ” Reporting the data is a commodity. Interpreting it, and providing reasoned, recommended solutions is what’s valuable.

Not sure exactly where to start? Here … let me Google that for you.

Validation

Startup confession: I hate validation with a passion. Not the process of it (whatever that process is, anyway), but the expectations that have been placed on it.

Validation is supposed to determine whether an idea is worth commercializing. The theory is that the innovator goes through a series of processes that lead to a black-and-white answer: either yes, this opportunity will obviously make me a zillionaire; or no, this opportunity should die on the vine. Validation becomes the insurance policy against failure and, with failure being a fate worse than death in many innovation circles, it’s be-all, end-all.

Let me be clear: no one ever, ever, ever does this.* Why else do you think that 90% of startups fail?

The problem is that we’re mostly wired to pursue the new and shiny, to say yes rather than no. Consciously or unconsciously, instead of validating the idea (i.e. empirically determining whether to move to the next step using a rigorous, data-oriented methodology), we try to rationalize all of the reasons to move forward. While we usually need about six positive messages to make up for one negative one, in our “validation” process, we tend to focus on all the data that we’ve got that says that we should keep pushing forward with commercialization.

There are plenty of articles about how best to validate (caution: whatever validation is, it is not a five-minute process), so I won’t duplicate the efforts of the many who are trying to sell you some sort of secret sauce. However, there are four big things that tend to be make-or-break when deciding to pursue a new idea. They are:

  • Degree of Differentiation – Your idea needs to be different enough to compete against other solutions while being tough to duplicate (technically or legally).
  • Market Size – The business needs to pursue a market big enough to meet your goals, whether that’s just to put food on your table or to make enough return to attract investment
  • Resources – You need the time to pursue it, a team that can compliment your strengths, and the financial resources to fill in the gaps, all from the first flick of the light bulb to the moment you put out the “for sale” sign.
  • Marketing 4Ps – Product, place, price, and promotion; they all need to work together to make the awareness-interest-decision-action cycle as short as humanly possible.

There’s other stuff, of course, but these are the big four. If you can rationalize this publicly with your right hand on a stack of enter-your-sacred-text-here, then you’ve done great work. This is what most people want when they want validation. They want some data, some third-party information that shows that you’re not a mad scientist.

For extra credit, I recommend one more step — the project premortem. The idea is simple; instead of waiting for things to get to their logical conclusion before doing an analysis of what went wrong, have a session with you/your team to talk about all of the reasons the project will fail miserably. When this is the goal of the discussion, everyone is open to talking through the potential pitfalls that they might otherwise be uncomfortable expressing in the face of the blinding optimism that comes with launching a new venture. It’s a fantastic exercise.

*This isn’t technically true, of course. Like how some people rotate their tires after every 3,000 miles or balance their checkbook every month instead of checking the balance online, it happens, but not often enough to discuss.