Monthly Archives: January 2011

Fail quickly, fail cheaply, fail often!

fail to succeed

Fail to Succeed

I spoke with a friend today with whom I’ve worked before at two jobs; one was my own startup and one was a large, established company.  He’s having some challenges at his current place of employment, specifically with the speed in which things get done (read “not done”).  We had some fun talking about the start-up environment and how it differs from the “real world” so I thought I’d share some of the discussion points.

I’ve worked in everything from start-up companies with less than ten employees to a big, public company with over 35,000.  One thing for sure, there’s nothing like the speed of a start-up to keep you motivated.  Have an idea on Sunday, discuss it Monday morning, do a bit of research on Monday afternoon and start developing and implementing on Tuesday.  This way, you get to try things, lots of things.  If they work, great!  If not, toss it and start over. I’ve always said, “If you’re going to fail, do so quickly, cheaply and often.”

What you don’t want is one of those long, painful, expensive failures. You’ve been there, I’m sure. This is the project that swallows thousands of man-hours and hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.  Worse yet, during that time, you’re not trying anything else. You’re team is so focused on the horrible project that you all took your collective brains on vacation from creativity. Then one day comes the validation that your teams’ brain-child is a disaster and likely, your boss will want to keep it going to save face until a more suitable time is found to kill it.

One thing I’ve learned is that the size or age of a company doesn’t pre-destine it to over-complication. My current employer, though it’s a company over 150 years old can actually get stuff done pretty quickly.  Heck, they bought my company, soup to nuts, within two and a half weeks.  Trust me, they can move fast.

In general though, Corporate America is so consumed with lawyers, fear of failure, quarterly reporting, etc. that good old spaghetti throwing (against the wall) is gone.  Have an idea? Shhhhh, someone may steal it.  Make sure you have NDA’s ready just in case you want to sniff-test the idea with someone outside your asylum, er, I mean company. Go contemplate every single little detail, document it, come up with an ops plan, get budget approval and talk to the dev guys (because they’re going to love to tell you it’s going to take ten months and half a million bucks to build it – though you could get it done in a third of the time for half the cost.)  Don’t forget, you’ll likely need a few versions of a deck to get buy-in from a boatload of people who don’t want to do any more work than they have to.

Start-up divisions within big companies are an interesting idea that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. At the end of the day, if your “startup team” needs to go through the same red tape, same development team, same documentation, same legal processes – well then, it’s not really a start-up team, is it? All you’ve done is brand the team as renegades without actually letting them go off and actually be renegades. Been there. Done that. Got the tee-shirt. (Again, I’m not talking about my current employer).

So, what if all companies acted like start-ups? No, I’m not suggesting we all get air-hockey or a Wii. I’m simply suggesting we would be seeing a lot more innovation, a lot more activity and people would clearly be having more fun (which begat more innovation and more activity…) if people would lighten up and speed it up a bit.    

Before you jump down my throat, I’ve had a lot of great corporate attorneys and analysts with whom I’ve worked. It’s just that so many people in the corporate world never had to deal with real life. They throw around budget numbers in the millions like it’s no big deal (even though they amount to which they’re referring is ten times their salary.) If you’ve ever been responsible for making payroll, you know what I’m talking about.  At the first company I started, I remember thinking “I really need to make payroll on Friday.  If I don’t, some of these people are going to hurt this weekend.”  That’s pressure.

My point is speed is critical in today’s business environment. I think it’s time we all make little efforts to speed up what we do. I’m all for having meetings, but keep them short, keep them tactical and implement, implement, implement.  I’m all for documentation, but keep it in bullet format.  I’m all for emails so you can prove you did something, but hey, pick up the phone and we’ll talk.

Advertisements

My View on Traveling with Children

 

 

Traveling with Children

Traveling with Children

I have a feeling I’ll catch some heat on this.  However, before you throw stones at me, read the whole post.

 

 For years, I’ve been traveling on planes listening to screaming, misbehaving and crying kids. I must admit something very dark; I hated kids on planes. Just the sight of them made me cringe.  I would spy them in the waiting areas and try to judge how misbehaved they’d be and what my odds were they would be sitting within one row of me or worse, next to me.

I recall one flight, I was sitting next to a man (he in the aisle and I in the middle seat – so I was already pissed) and the two little brats, er, I mean children behind us wouldn’t shut up. The man next to me continued to read his Wall Street Journal as if there was nothing wrong.  As the kids bounced and yelled, he kept reading.  Then the kids started playing “go fish” as they threw their cards and proceeded to slam the tray table connected to my seat repeatedly.  All the mother did was kept repeating “Calm down, you are bothering the nice man in front of you.”  (Ya think?) However, after one hundred times of saying this, I’m sure all the kids heard was “way to go, make more noise.” One last slam and I turned around and said to the mother “I normally am a nice man, but the fact you continue to sit there and do nothing while your children bang on my chair is unbelievable to me.”  Her response? “Sorry, but they’re only children.”

The slamming stopped for a few minutes and I commented to the guy sitting and reading his newspaper.  (Note: he hadn’t moved and, to my amazement, was still calmly reading.) “Do you believe this?”  His response? “I’ve got four kids at home. This is nothing. I honestly don’t hear a thing.”  I couldn’t believe his response and thought for a moment, he might have been their father; you know, a dad who travels with the family but acts as if he doesn’t know them.

As for me at the time, I never thought I could deal with kids on a plane. That is, until my wife became pregnant with our first child. I knew, at that moment, I was going to have to grow up and get with the program.  One thing I was sure about was 90% of a child’s behavior on the plane was in direct proportion to the effort put forth by the parents. Yes Mom and Dad, your children are your responsibility on planes or in hotels or anywhere else for that matter. Ignoring them in your own home is fine. However, ignoring them while they slam my tray table isn’t.

Fast forward at least eighteen years. I now have two children under three years old. Both are avid flyers.  My wife and I have, over many flights, put together a list of things we do and bring to make sure we have a good flight, not only for us, but for the people around us.  It’s not a foolproof plan, but it’s pretty good. So, here goes.

  1. Kill Germs. Airports and planes are dirty. Bring disinfectant wipes and wipe down everything around your child on the plane; arm rests, tray tables, wall, window shade – everything. Carry Purell and wipe/disinfect their hands and yours regularly. OK, germs killed.
  2. Bring extra supplies. The diaper bag has to be filled, complete with any supply that might ever be needed for any possible reason.  Extra diapers and supplies (30% more than you think you need – just in case of delays), paper towels, a cloth towel just in case you have to mop up a spill, plastic bags and ziplock baggies and an infinite supply of wipes.  Bring a little air-freshener too. Trust me, you may be used to your little-one’s spit-up smell, but everyone around you won’t appreciate it.
  3. Keep ‘em busy. Children’s attention spans are short at a young age.  I plan the 15-minute activity list.  You should have one activity per 15 minutes. Keep  them busy and their less likely to aggravate you and the other people on the plane. Activities can be repeated, but only once an hour.  For us, these include: crayons on coloring books, regular hard picture book, sticker book, etch-a-sketch mini and one of those books with the special marker that reveals hidden pictures as you color.
  4. Go ahead, watch TV. Here, television IS your friend. For longer flights, get a portable DVD player or something where you can play Barney, the Wiggles or whatever else you child likes.
  5. Popping Ears. Infants cry during take-off and landing because their ears hurt.  So, make sure they’re drinking a bottle during those times to alleviate their ear-popping pain. It has worked like a charm for both of my kids.
  6. Extra clothes. Bring extra clothes for the kids…and for you. Sometimes, children get sick, so plan for it. Sometimes children get sick on you which my wife learned on one flight when my son threw up on her. From then on, we’ve each carried an extra t-shirt with us, just in case.
  7. Thou shall not kick. If your child is a fan of kicking the seat in front of them (why do they do this?), take off their shoes. One kick and it will hurt and they’ll stop doing it.
  8. Hear no evil. No matter how well-behaved you think your kids are, they may cry. So, as soon as the flight attendant comes around offering earphones, offer to buy a set for each of your seat-mates.  On our last Continental Airlines flight, they were being offered at $1, so I automatically bought one for the five people around us.  One man kept saying “you don’t need to do that” but for a buck, it was a good insurance policy, just in case.
  9. Thank you and Sorry! Sometimes your children are going to misbehave. It happens.  Yes, they are just kids (Okay? There, I said it.)  Or, they’ll be sick or something just won’t go as planned on the plane. You’ll make a few people miserable. You won’t want to, but you will. When we fly with our children, we carry a dozen gift cards (from Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks).  Most are for $10, but a few are for $50.  We use these as “thank-you” and “I’m sorry” for people that have either helped us (like the flight where my wife was flying alone with my infant daughter and flight attendant held my daughter when my wife had to use the rest-room.) On a flight that was delayed for three hours ON THE RUNWAY, our daughter spilled her drink on the man next to her.  It was just juice and she didn’t mean it, but she was fidgety. He wasn’t upset, but I felt I should at least pay for his dry-cleaning. He didn’t want to accept anything but was pleasantly surprised at the gift-card.
  10. Dads – this one is for you. Your wife has enough to deal with so help her. Help her even more than you normally would. Take turns taking your children to the bathroom. Do more than your fair share. Traveling with kids can be fun. My daughter and I love to look out the window on take-offs. We love to look at the clouds.

As you can tell, I’m a firm believer in over-parenting on flights. It’s the right (and polite) thing to do. Your children and your seat-mates will thank you.  I acknowledge that things always won’t go as planned, so you should plan for that as well.  It won’t be easy all the time, but you have to make the effort. Traveling with children can be a great experience.

For those parents who think that ignoring their misbehaved children on the plane is okay and the rest of us should just deal with it – well, no. You deal with your kids.  At least, please, make a real effort.  We understand they’re just kids, but you are the adult.

For the rest of you on the plane, including people like the anti-child-on-plane person I used to be, people traveling with kids (especially single moms) need help, so offer assistance. Every little bit helps.  You’ll see how much they appreciate it.  My mother always says, “Be nice to people and they’ll be nice to you.”