One of the more unfortunate things about people is the intersection of responding to incentives and recognition primarily, thinking short-term in time, and not reasoning through events that don't happen.
When an engineer or surveyor goes on and on about improving earthquake or hurricane measures, they're generally perceived as a nag, burden, and hassle -- until you get a bad hurricane or earthquake that costs lives, causes immense human misery, and does millions to billions of dollars in possibly preventable damage.
In business, you wind up with lots of these too. There's dozens of little things that only have a 1% chance of occurring, but the majority of people will perceive you as a hassle if you try to bring them up.
For instance, a friend of mine owns a large bilingual IT firm in a highly developed, non-English country.
At the advice of one of his mentors, he moved his salespeople's commission structure from the old system that was based just on revenues, to one that had "diversification" as a criteria. This was because his firm was doing most of their business with just a few very large clients, and they had immense leverage over his company. And if one of them should switch providers, they'd have gotten hit with a serious crunch, and potentially would have had to lay some of their excellent team that had taken many years to build.
Of course, predictably, everyone except his wife (who works with him and supports him wholeheartedly) hated the change and wanted to rebel against it. He eventually, through sheer of force of will and determination, pushed it through and then re-improved morale.
But in this case, there was a never a "happily ever after" ending where people realized the wisdom of what he'd done. His business is now much less likely to hit a cashflow crunch, and they have more negotiating leverage and less desperation when dealing with big clients.
Will it ever be noticed? Probably not. Only in a nightmare scenario of losing two of their top clients in a short period of time, which has a low likelihood of happening and hopefully never will. He de-risked and shaved off a couple percentage points of risk that his business gets hammered, but no one notices that and no one cares, except in the math of the Armageddon-type events that you hope never occur anyways.
There's tons of other examples, from getting your legal documents tight, to getting structures set up correctly, doing tax-planning in advance (which might not be fatal if you fail to do it, but will very likely be your largest single cost if you're making significant profits, and could have been much lower with some pre-planning a year or two earlier)...
...and you see this everywhere, on a personal level with people who don't floss, don't stretch, and so on. The downsides to not doing these activities are far off, there's no recognition or immediate payoff, and so they rarely happen.
The solution? Well, it's difficult. Some education of key people you're involved with into thinking about these low-odds high-damage risks can be good. Building a set of partners, collaborators, key executives, a board, whatever, that appreciates and thinks this thing through periodically is probably the best way, but people that think in this way are rarer than not.
And y'know, to add insult to injury, you've also got to do all those day to day imminent pressing things like growing revenues, dealing with operations and fulfillment and customer service, and all the other high-recognition obviously valuable tasks.
Yet... making those computer backups, actually testing your backups, having just a little bit of emergency plans if you're operating in an unstable country, diversifying your client base, diversifying your currency of payment if your primary payment currency is unstable, having a lawyer look over your contracts, getting your tax-planning and legal structures correct, taking the time to get a decent relationship with a decent bank, doing just a little bit of planning in case a key employee, contractor, partner, client, or supplier leaves your company or goes under...
...you don't win awards for that sort of thing, and it isn't sexy. But devoting just a bit of time to it is key if you're going to build something big. Those small-chance high-damage risks can be absorbed by a gigantic conglomerate, but it could spell the end of a fledgling successful company. A couple hours a month thinking them through, and some resources devoted to cleaning them is a wise play.
Have you read Taleb's "Black Swan"? He's a jerk, but he's also brilliant. This is the core message of the book: Black Swans are phenomena that are highly nonlinear, and hence cannot be predicted via extrapolation. In those cases you should not behave as you normally would in cases of statistically predictable risk * consequence, because that behavior assumes the math is pretty stable and as risk approaches zero and consequence approaches infinity, it's not stable. (That's not really the right metaphor - he's talking about situations not just where the risk is very tiny, but where it is impossible to say clearly what the risk is because it is an event that does not occur often enough to have a measurable risk, or one to which you can meaningfully fit a function curve.)
So instead, your beahvior in these cases should simply be to position yourself so that you are out of the blast radius of negative Black Swans, and within the blast radius of positive Black Swans, and that's really it.
He said people complained that the book didn't tell them "what to do", and he said "Don't smoke. Don't eat sugar. Etc." And they'd say "No I want to know what to do!"
Since he's a jerk I imagine he enjoyed the whole thing a lot.
I find that those low-level solidification fixes improve self-image. Getting my digital shit (backups, encryption, etc) in order has made me feel like more of a person who has hit shit together in general, for instance. Our self-image is buffed by what we repeatedly do.
Interesting read on self-image: http://lesswrong.com/lw/g0e/narrative_selfimage_and_selfcommunication/
I am also reading Maxwell Maltz (Psycho-Cybernetics) on the same topic, but no comments there yet.
From time to time, everyone gets so ridiculously busy than they need to make cuts on some of their activities. If these cuts aren't consciously chosen, they'll happen anyways - we've only got 24 hours a day.
Interestingly, I hit a massively busy patch last week. I came onboard as a partner at a new company that's growing fast, but we haven't hired the staff to take over a lot of the mid-level tasks that need done. So we were jamming on everything for a week, plus I have a lot of other things going on.
What shocks me is how poorly the cuts I made at first were. The things that weren't getting done were some of the most valuable. Here's three that I wasn't doing, that I've now reversed even though this week is still busy -
1. Planning/organizing: There's been a bit of an anti-planning backlash the last few years in response to stupid bureaucracy in big companies. But the more experience I get and the more I interact with people performing on a really high level, the more planning and organizing I see.
Think about it - many activities and tasks only get 5-10 minutes of planning, but then take 3-10 hours to do. If you double your planning and make a task only 10% more efficient, you've got a net gain. Yeah, it can feel like "shit, I've got to get to work" when you're super busy, but being frantic leads to waste. Don't stop planning if you have too much going on. Arguably, that's when you should plan more carefully at the start of each day and week.
CES is an amazing show. With nearly 2 million square feet of exhibit space, it's easy to feel like your little 10x10 booth will get lost in the shuffle. Which, in fact, it will.
Here's a detailed account of our experience with AppMakr doing a show at CES for the first time, along with blog-by-blow learning through videos as we went through the event. Before the show I poked around on the interwebs hoping to find a first-timer guide, but it seems that everyone assumes that anyone who's doing a booth has already done one before. The CES exhibitor guide is overwhelming to say the least, and there wasn't much information for newbies. So I was committed to capturing as much of the learning as I could to share it with others contemplating a booth for the first time.
First let me say that without our AppMakr admin Crissie and our CES sales rep Tira, we would not have been able to plan this effectively, so thank you a thousand times for your help, and Tira especially for all the first-timer questions we asked (and it's great to know fog machines are allowed as long as they're water-based, even though we didn't end up using one!). Also a huge thank-you to Sue and Michael for their tireless setup and take-down help over the course of the show. Again, it would've been utterly impossible without you.
The first thing I did when contemplating the show was to prioritize goals. Here's how I ranked them, from most important to least:
CES is an amazing show. With nearly 2 million square feet of exhibit space, it's easy to feel like your little 10x10 booth will get lost in the shuffle. Which, in fact, it will. Here's a detailed account of our experience with AppMakr doing a show at CES for the first time, along with blog-by-blow learning through videos as we went through the event. Before the show I poked around on the interwebs hoping to find a first-timer guide, but it seems that everyone assumes that anyone who's doing a booth has already done one before. The CES exhibitor guide is overwhelming to say the least, and there wasn't much information for newbies. So I was committed to capturing as much of the learning as I could to share it with others contemplating a booth for the first time. First let me say that without our AppMakr admin Crissie and our CES sales rep Tira, we would not have been able to plan this effectively, so thank you a thousand times for your help, and Tira especially for all the first-timer questions we asked (and it's great to know fog machines are allowed as long as they're water-based, even though we didn't end up using one!). Also a huge thank-you to Sue and Michael for their tireless setup and take-down help over the course of the show. Again, it would've been utterly impossible without you. The first thing I did when contemplating the show was to prioritize goals. Here's how I ranked them, from most important to least: Executive team has a chance to bond at the show Press from announcements, and being able to say "We announced at CES" Knowledge & thought leadership via a panel Leads from the booth itself Branding from the booth You can see I ranked the actual booth as least important, because I assumed it'd be impossible for us to break through the CES clutter. Here's my scorecard on how those priorities shook out: Executive team has a chance to bond at the show: This was great - we all got to spend time together and reconnect in important ways. We're all running so fast that we rarely have the chance to do this. In fact, this is probably the only opportunity all year where we'll all be able to spend 3+ days together in both a work and social setting. The show was worthwhile just for this. Some of us brought spouses, who got to enjoy Las Vegas and relax -- and we all know that the support of our spouses is what enables us to work the crazy hours that we do, so that was just as important to me in the planning. The only thing I would change is the setup schedule, which left me so exhausted (literally 9 hours of sleep over 3 days) that I wasn't able to enjoy everyone's company as much as I would've hoped to. The show started Thursday morning, and I arrived at midnight on Tuesday, meaning we only had 1 day to set up. It would've been better to arrive late Monday or early Tuesday to spread the setup over 2 days instead of one. Press from announcements, and being able to say "We announced at CES" AppMakr turned one year old while we were at CES, so it was a fitting venue to launch our multi-platform support for Android and Windows Phone devices in addition to iPhone. While we got some press from the announcement, we didn't break through the press clutter as well as I would've liked. So I'd say we underperformed in this area, although an unexpected upshot from the announcement was literally thousands of beta requests we got from the announcement, which are still now pouring in, and one of our resellers even launched a very cool app for the show. Launching a new product or feature at CES does lend credibility, though, and we'll be able to say "we announced this at CES" in the future. Knowledge & thought leadership via a panel Our CTO Isaac Mosquera did a phenomenal panel on the state of apps at CES, which we captured, so this was a total win. Leads from the booth itself We got an unexpected bonus here. Tira, our CES rep, situated us in the iLounge pavilion, which turned out to be mostly hardware case manufacturers. In fact, we were the only software / services company I saw in the iLounge. CES has traditionally been a hardware show, and we knew we were taking a risk by being there, but attendees seemed to find it very refreshing to stumble upon something different at our booth. Several times attendees said AppMakr was "the most impressive thing they'd seen at the show." Considering we were 100 sq feet out of 2 million, we took that as a pretty good sign that being there was the right thing to have done, and the interest we got from people validated that. In addition to AppMakr, which is currently free, we offer an AppMakr concierge service, where resellers build apps for clients with small budgets (under $20k) as well as an enterprise professional services brand, PointAbout, which handles Fortune 1000 clients. We got a good lead flow off the entire spectrum of mobile solutions we offer. Total unexpected win here. Branding from the booth It's hard to tell how effective our branding was, although the AppMakr booth looked great thanks to our lead designer, Jeff. We did have a number of people come up to us and tell us that they've already used AppMakr to make apps, which was great. This one is hard to quantify, which is why it was at the bottom of the priority list in the first place. Key learnings from the event In the videos below I go into detail as we figured things out. Here are some of the main things I would highlight -- watch the videos for more detail. Give yourself 2 days to set up, or hire a professional crew to do it if you have the budget -- it's exhausting (and I'm used to long hours!) Have a staging area pre-show. We had two friends, Chris & Peter, who very graciously agreed to accept packages before-hand for us. If they hadn't done that, we wouldn't have been able to ship things to Vegas up to a week ahead of time. Most hotels charge by the pound to accept items and even then only within a limited timeframe Plan meticulously. We did pretty well here. We all had schedules of when we were going to be on booth duty, which was key. I had pre-shipped most of what we needed. I had backups for the backups for key parts of the interactive photo booth that we had. CES membership costs $700 per year. It gives you a special "members only" reserved parking area. It's almost worth the $700 just for the parking. Otherwise, parking would've been impossible. And speaking of parking... ... If you have lots of stuff you'll be schlepping around, get a minivan. We did, as a last minute low-cost upgrade, and we wouldn't have been able to do the show without it. Sunday wasn't as slow as I expected it to be: The show starts on Thursday, and I thought by Sunday most people would be gone, but the traffic was surprisingly steady on Sunday. It's worth sticking around for The on-site facilities contractors are impossible to deal with: The on-site facilities coordinators, a company called GES, was a complete mess. In fairness, they're responsible for setting up 2 million square feet of space, and I'm sure they didn't care about our small 10x10 booth, but the only thing consistent about them was how they messed up almost every part of our booth. When we arrived, we had the wrong setup, and the coordinator demanded proof that it was, in fact, incorrect. I had to stop what I was doing to open my laptop and show her what we'd ordered. Then, when we asked it to be fixed, it wasn't by 3am the next morning when we'd finished setting up, so we made due with what we'd been given. The next day, however, we found an notice from GES saying we'd have to pay to fix their own mistake. I then asked GES not to change anything, as we'd made the current setup work, and they proceeded to swap it out anyway. To make things worse, the next day I found an invoice charging us over $200 for the work I'd asked them not to do, which was to fix their mistake in the first place. Basically, they failed at every chance they got. It was a very stressful and disappointing experience, and it was probably the biggest factor that would keep me from doing a booth in the future. I have the entire correspondence chain in writing if you find it hard to believe. Here's a lot more detail, hope the videos are helpful and please feel free to ask questions in the comments below, which I'll answer. CES How-To Video #1 - Unloading Peter's truck with all the pre-ship items he held for us: CES How-To Video #2 - The minivan and CEA membership: CES How-To Videos #3 - #8 (coming) CES How-To Video #9 - Sneak peek before the show: CES How-To Video #10 - #11 (coming) CES How-To Video #12 - Parking: CES How-To Video #13 - The Switch-A-Roo Fiasco: CES How-To Video #14 - The Interactive Photo Booth: CES How-To Video #15 - The Kodak Zi8: CES How-To Video #16 - Re-booking flights: CES How-To Video #17 - The breakdown + in-booth wifi pro-tip: CES How-To Video #18 - On the plane home (finally):