Mar 31

Today I’ll be at Clemson University playing in a golf tournament (forecast: 45 degrees and rain. Fun). I briefly thought about turning on my out-of-office auto-reply for my email, but then I thought, Why?

My faithful blackberry will be with me. I’m sure to glance at it now and again, definitely at the turn and the first thing I’ll turn my attention to at the conclusion of the match.

One could argue, in and of itself that such a scenario is sad. Today, people can’t stay unconnected for more than ten minutes. I can’t argue with that logic, as some time I take up that position myself. But today I think, “Because of technology, I can be out of the office playing golf, but still connected to the office.” Isn’t the web great?

The world doesn’t have to stop for me to get back from the tournament. We’re no longer out of the office because the office is becoming less and less of a physical place. Business can go on (though somewhat limited) and I can still enjoy a round of golf. The out-of-office reply is dead.

Mar 25

Wasting Time

Adam Landrum | March 25, 2008 | 6:45 am

The internet can be the greatest time saver of all time. Looking things up in a snap, printing off directions so you don’t get lost, or buying something online so you don’t run to the store.

Then again, the internet is probably a bigger time waster than it is a time saver. Last night I found myself aimlessly surfing and luckily snapped myself out of it. Which leads me to: what do employees do during the day? Up to 2.5 hours is wasted each day-mostly attributed to the internet-or $759 billion per year in lost productivity.

Is that a black-eye for the internet or a black-eye for employees?

Mar 21

Apple is making life difficult by heading up the simplicity movement. With the likes of the iPod and the MacBook Air, taking features away and making devices simpler is creating a society that now frets at complication.

Merge has a couple employees in their twenties who have no idea how to operate their desk phone. Checking voicemail requires they dial **#, a combination that is just not worth remembering. “Give me one button to push.” This comes from an employee who custom programs database applications.

Remember the day when you relished the fact that you could operate your parent’s VCR, but they had no clue? You were needed. We were marvels because we grew up with technology and we could figure out anything they threw at us.

But now things are changing. Good technology isn’t complicated, and the next generation is demanding no complexity. If it’s complex, they’re just refusing to use it. Like the phones here at Merge.

Will our kids not be able to set alarm clocks, use the microwave or set the thermosat? Will they wait until they can do such with a press of the button? That’s their prerogative, but they may freeze to death waiting.

Simplicity is in vogue. The #1 request we hear for a new web design is “clean and simple.” Simple is in vogue because it stands out from everything being so complex. However, once everything is simple, will we crave the complex? Will we wish the iPod had just one more feature? Will we want our MacBook Air to come with just one more USB port? Will the next generation say, “Give me more features than I can use, because I’m smart enough to figure it out”?

Mar 20

Already, we’ve seen a dip in productivity. Have you? Our office spent the morning finalizing brackets, and we’re taking off this afternoon to watch the beginning games.

We must rationalize that NCAA basketball is good for team building or something. There will be a pay off I am sure.

Mar 18

The Arbinger Institute published the [audio] book that deals with self-deception and how it affects leadership.

The premise is that leaders commit self-betrayal to justify their means and therefore manage people. They call this betrayal as “inside the box.” A leader (or a person) is inside the box when they are concerned about their own situation. In the context of a manager/employee, the inside the box manager will ride the employee to get the project done on time because its what they promised the client. An out of box manager would approach the situation from the employees perspective. The manager will focus on why the employee would want to get the job done, not why the manager wants the job done.

The key then is to be out-of-the-box and consider others before one’s own selfish needs.

In short, the book summed up the following principals:

-People Skills
-Putting Others Before Yourself
-Servant Leadership
-Proactive vs. Reactive Management

Many of the examples showed how we rationalize others behavior (self-betrayal) to justify our actions. When you separate their behavior and ask yourself “what’s the right thing to do?”, you find your reaction is contrary to the right thing. For instance, if an employee keeps coming to work late, your reaction might be to not assign them tough work. Instead, if you sit down with the employee and find out they are getting in late to work is because they are working late every night on key projects, you soon realize this is a go-to person.

The book is told completely from a story context with Bud, Lou and Tom as the main characters. It is well done and worth the read. Audiobook was purchased from

Mar 18

These days I find myself in a fair amount of meetings. It seems like relatively common sense on how meetings should be run, but I’m amazed at the inefficiency of how most meetings are conducted.

Some simple guidelines to making meetings more effective and participants happier:

-Confirm the meeting time, date and location the day before the meeting. In the days of electronic calendars, smartphones and PDAs, we still need simple reminders. There’s nothing that makes the effectiveness of a meeting worse than a key participant not showing up.

-Start on time. No exceptions. Just start. Sooner or later the participants will get the message that they have to be on time for future meetings.

-Communicate the meeting’s objective. “This is what we need to accomplish with this meeting.”

-Agenda. List the items that need to be discussed. This keeps meetings from getting off topic (and becoming ineffective).

-Allocate time so you can end on time. Let participants know from the beginning that the meeting will start at 9 and end at 10. But make sure you allocate time per agenda item so that you can end the meeting on time. If you spend 10 minutes on 8 items, then you obviously won’t make the hour timeline.

If you do these five simple tasks, you’ll be a meeting-running-super-star.

**Update, just saw this post from 37Signals / Ricardo Selma book, and noted that we had almost the identical points. Ricardo puts it in slightly different terms-good stuff.

Mar 16

Great post on the emotional roller coaster ride of the entrepreneur.

I’ve been at it more than six years now. Sales ebb and flow. I ebb and flow. Things are good and things are tough. I’m tired or I have a lot of energy. I’m excited; I am bored. I have vision or I can see nothing.

Ah, the life of the entrepreneur is a volatile roller coaster ride. Cheers!

Mar 14

Ok, so it took me about 7 months to read the behemoth 1959 Ayn Rand classic, Atlas Shrugged, but it is finished.

A blog about the 1,200 page Atlas Shrugged won’t do it justice (see the cliff notes, but even these are long). I do know many-an-entrepreneur have attributed their theory, outlook and success to the book. For me, it has definitely shaped and helped redefine values I have for business. The book is primarily about unabashedly being proud of running a business and contributing to society. The struggle in the antagonist(s) in the book have the theory that corporations have a civic duty to support the general public. The antagonists (government and lobbyists) are referred to as the “looters” in the book. The argument is that without businesses, without the talent of business owners of the private sector, what would the public be without them? They, in fact, do support the general public in the fact that they exist and provide value to society. The looters in contrast, want something for nothing, they expect these business owners to continue to produce, even though they tax them to the hilt, put on unnecessary restrictions to make it difficult.

The looters find out the true value of the private sector, when one by one, they withdraw themselves from society. They soon realize they need the very people they persecuted for the “good of the people.” As the nation crumbles and riots, the looters realized they themselves are the enemy.

Overall, I think it’s a great book and a must read for any business owner. Sure, the political implications are put on pretty thick, and can be very eye-opening depending on what side of the fence you’re on. But I recommend it nonetheless.

Mar 14

Recently, I posted a blog about increasing the efficiency of scheduling a meeting. Studies show it takes up to 7 email exchanges to book one meeting. A solution I espoused was to share your free/busy calendar with the other party to expedite the setting of a date and time.

Google has just released a free Outlook/Google Calendar syncing program. Your problems are solved, and you can now save about 98 hours per year in setting appointments.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Set-up a Google Calendar account if you don’t have one.
2. Create your calendar in your new account.
3. Download the Google Sync program.
4. Run the program
5. Get your calendar link to share with others.
-Next to your new calendar, click the down arrow
-Select Calendar Settings
-On the Calendar Details tab (the tab that opens, scroll down, and right click the HTML icon)
-Copy the URL that opens in the box
-Paste that into a new browser/tab, save as a favorite.

Now, when you share that link with others, they will see your free/busy calendar (they will not see any times, just details like below).

Isn’t the web great?

Mar 13

“They” say it takes an average of 7 emails going back and forth to schedule a meeting.

Wow. Would be nice to be able to do it in one (request and response). “They” also say employees spend 100 hours per year setting meetings.

Here are some tips to schedule meetings faster:

-Offer the place, time and date when you schedule a meeting. Avoid this: “Do you want to meet?” “Yes.” “Ok, when?” “At Starbucks.” “What day and time?”…yada yada. Instead, “Can you meet at Starbucks on Tuesday at 10 am?”

-Clarify the location. Odds are there are more than one Starbucks. Make sure you designate the exact Starbucks you’re talking about.

-Provide alternative dates. “If you can’t do the date above, I am also available Thursday at 10 am or Friday at 9am.” If you want to really streamline the process, provide your public free/busy Google Calendar (requires that you use Google Calendar of course). This allows your meeting mate to see your entire free/busy calendar, and they can tell you when they can meet. If you don’t use Google calendar and you don’t have anything overly sensitive on your Outlook calendar, I’ve even taken a screen shot of my calendar and pasted it in the email.

Happy meeting making! I hope this helps you cut down on the time it takes you to schedule a meeting!