Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The 10,000 Hour Rule

Malcolm Gladwell and Nick Bayliss have both written about the 10,000 hour rule -- it takes 10,000 hours of practice doing something to become really competent. Bill Gates discusses this in a video. The point Bill Gates makes is that it takes more than 10,000 hours of doing something. It takes several winnowing cycles, so only the best and most dedicated are left. I agree with his insight. But I also believe in innate talent having a role in the mix.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Review of "The Lean Startup"

Jim, who is a serial entrepreneur, long-time client and friend, called me up excitedly. "Guess what they're teaching at Princeton? Not to write a business plan. Now, they're teaching kids to just start their businesses." Jim had just been at a session with the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, where Jim was a mentor to a team of students. The topic that day was Eric Reis's book, The Lean Startup. Jim went on to tell me that Stanford, Berkeley and Harvard have all jumped on The Lean Startup bandwagon. My curiosity was piqued. I had to read it. 

I was surprised by the book.  The Lean Startup – How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Reis (2011, Crown), is clearly targeted to brilliant computer engineers and inventors who are in love with their code and their idea, without regard to the real needs of the marketplace. The book teaches them that they need to fill their customers’ needs – a very basic concept from Marketing 101 – and use sound management practices. 

Reis’s principles come out of the lessons learned in the dot-com meltdown and also from management theory. Here's where I got confused. Reis starts out saying that entrepreneurial ventures need to follow sound management principles. But then, he proposes that businesses experiment their way to success, which seems to us to be antithetical to what I learned in my management and marketing classes at Wharton. 

Although much of the advice in this book tends to the very academic – developing and studying cohorts, for example –  Eric Reis has become the darling of Silicon Valley and has excited entrepreneurs with the idea that they do not need business plans, just the willingness to “continuously innovate” and “pivot” when things don’t go according to expectations. He tells readers to start lean and keep learning as you go.

Companies all over Silicon Valley and beyond are embracing Reis's theories for product development and management. For that reason alone, the book is worth reading. If you don't want to read it, then just watch Reis's video telling you about the book and the theory. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An Entrepreneur's Quote of the Day

"If you want to be a great entrepreneur, you’re going to have to burn your résumé and stop worrying about your reputation, because you’re probably going to go through long periods of people calling you stupid." -- Mark Pincus, founder of Zynga.

I love this quote from Mark's recent interview in The New York Times Magazine ("I Don't Think It's Rotting Their Brains," April 7, 2008). It captures so well the mindset you have to have to succeed as an entrepreneur. You are putting your ideas out there for others to judge. The public, businesses, and your investors are going to making their feelings known by voting with their dollars. Your friends and family are going to be telling you what they think.

But if you have the vision, the fire and the perseverance, you will probably overcome the odds and make it. 

The interview is short and worth a read...
The founder of Zynga on games, management and his relationship with Mark Zuckerberg.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review of "LEAN IN - Women, Work and the Will to Lead"

My first reaction to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “LEAN IN – Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” was, I’ve read this before. Back in the late 1970s, I had just gotten out of Wharton with an MBA and was starting my first job in the corporate world. Anxious to prove myself in what was then truly a man’s world, I read book after book on how to negotiate corporate politics and get ahead. That’s why Sandberg’s words were sounding so familiar.  

But as I read on, I realized that Sandberg had a lot of good advice to impart to whole new generations of women and girls who hadn't read the books I had. She also rebutted some of the advice I had followed -- like trying to act like a man. Even better, she delivered much of it by telling stories from her own life and by giving tips from other women of achievement. Thank goodness for the human touch and the humor she has injected, like trying to quickly get to the far end of the parking lot at Google when she was pregnant or attempting to hide the fact that she was leaving at a normal hour to see her kids.

I loved that she started to wake up and just ask for special parking spots for pregnant workers and that she felt she could have a personal life and a chance to be home for dinner. At the same time, I was thinking about how tough the corporate world is on both men and women. Look at how Marissa Mayer has issued an edict that everyone must now work at the office. Face time still seems to matter as much as it did in the last century.

There is a mixed message however. In some cases Sandberg is teaching women to be more true to their feminine selves. In other cases, she is urging women and girls to have more spine, more confidence and ambition and be less true to their female cultural training. She is telling them not to be too nice and self-effacing and to grab the opportunities when they happen. She quotes Eric Schmidt telling her, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.” Eric's statement made her take the job offer from Google.

But as an older person who left the corporate fold to start my own business and raise my kids without someone clocking me in or judging me, I began to wonder: Is rising to the top of a large institution really the best way to define success? It clearly is for Sheryl Sandberg. But I would bet it’s not for many women and men, particularly today where loyalty and hard work are not necessarily rewarded by large institutions of any kind. Plus, it's really expensive to rise to the top. You have to invest time, your personal self, and lots of money to get there. That takes a tremendous amount of gumption and willpower. But it's also expensive to drop out and raise kids. (I don't really like the way Sheryl bashes well-educated women who do raise kids and volunteer their time. Nonprofits need volunteers desperately. And there's nothing wrong with doing good -- or investing in your family --  in my opinion.)

Still, Lean In is worth reading, if for no other reason than to wake yourself up to the fact that the world of work is still not fair and that women still do not have equality. 

The answer to how to achieve equality, however, is not totally answered in the book. But if you want to rise in government, academia or in someone else’s business, Sandberg’s advice is quite good. 

In fact, I’ve found myself giving similar advice many times to both my daughter and my son as they grow in their chosen careers: You have to ask for raises. You have to ask for promotions. You have to negotiate good deals for yourself.  You have to toot your own horn. It’s just harder for women to do these things and not be criticized for it. Sandberg says, never mind. Take your place at the table.  

You can learn more of the Lean In philosophy at the Lean In organization:  http://leanin.org/
Listen to Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk: