Jan 272008

Honestly, Why Bother?

Honestly, Why Bother?

We have a small competitor who has, on and off over the years (they just re-did it) blocked access to their corporate web site from one of our offices.  Like we can’t see it from our other offices or from home or from wireless air cards sitting in our offices.  Honestly, why would you bother going to that trouble just to irk a competitor?  I guess I’m glad that’s how they’re spending their available cycles.

Filed under: Business

Jan 272008

Book Short: A Must Read

Book Short:  A Must Read

Every once in a while, I read a book and think, “This is an important book.”  Microtrends, by Mark Penn, was just that kind of read.  Penn is the CEO of one of our largest clients in the market research business as well as CEO of Burson Marstellar and, more notably, the Clintons’ pollster and strategy director for much of the last 16 years.  He’s a smart guy, and more important than that, he’s awash in primary research data.

The premise of Microtrends is that America is no longer a melting pot, where lots of different people come together to try to be the same, but rather that it’s a big tent, where lots of small groups are now large enough to express their individuality powerfully.  The book is also perfect for the ADD-afflicted among us, with 75 chapters each of about 4 pages in length describing one new “microtrend” or small faction of American identity.  Penn not only describes the trend in a data-rich way but then goes on to postulate about the impact that trend will have on society at large and/or on the business opportunities that could come from serving those in the trend.

Just to give you a sample of the trends he covers:  Sex-ratio singles (explaining why there really are more single women than men), Extreme commuters (we certainly have a couple of those at Return Path),
Pro-Semites vs. Christian Zionists (they sound the same but are completely different), Newly-released Ex-cons (hint – there are a ton of them), and the rise of Chinese artists.

Whether you’re interested in marketing, entrepreneurship (you’ll get loads of ideas here), investing (more loads of ideas), or just trends in American and global society, Microtrends is a must must must read.  All 75 chapters were interesting to me, but even if you don’t love some…they’re only 4 pages each!

Jan 132008

Are You As Versatile As Running?

Are You As Versatile As Running?

Today was my first day back in the city after two weeks working and playing at our house in the mountains.  And a beautiful day it was — 46 and sunny!  I went for a great run, reflecting on how incredibly versatile running is.  Less than 48 hours before, I had also been running, but bundled up, in a 17 degree snowfall, wearing my new Icebugs (thanks for the tip, Brad), up and down the hills of a quiet country road at 6500 feet in Idaho.  Today — sea level, flat, urban, sunny and crisp out, wearing shorts (I’ll let you guess which was easier).  How versatile can a sport be?

Are you as versatile at work?  Can you be that go-to person for your manager, the all-weather team member who gets called on to take on any kind of project as needed?  I don’t care how specialized your job is or how big your company is.  That’s the kind of employee you want to be, trust me.

But, you say, what about me?  Don’t I get a say in things?  Can’t I have my own career ambitions and interests and steer the kind of work that I do?

You can!  You should!  I tell people at Return Path that all the time.  And the best part about is that while the two above statements may seem at odds with each other — be able to do anything (with a smile) and do what you want to do — they’re actually not.  The very best employees who I’ve worked with or who have worked for me over the years do both and mix them together to their advantage.

Work your career path with your manager, your mentor, your HR leader, your CEO.  Understand what’s possible long term at the company.  Figure out what you’re good at and what interests you (read, among other things, Now, Discover Your Strengths to get there).  Learn what it takes to earn a promotion to the next level.  Get yourself generally in line to rise through the ranks the way YOU want to.  Obviously, to get to that next level, you’ll need to work your butt off, harder than others around you, with better results and higher quality.

But you also have to be a utility infielder, to mix sports metaphors.  If your company or your team needs you to do something a little different from what you’re doing today, the difference between doing it well with a smile on your face and doing it merely satisfactorily with a grimace could be the difference between that next promotion and not.  And it’s really both those things — doing it well, and having a great attitude about it. 

I love running, because I can do it at any place, at any time, as long as have my running shoes.  Our best employees are similarly versatile, because they are self-directed and work hard and do things right, but also because they do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, even if it’s outside the scope of their day-to-day or not explicitly in the critical path of their next promotion.

Filed under: Leadership

Jan 112008

Mail Fusion

Mail Fusion

For 8 or 9 years now, we haven’t received a single bill by U.S. mail.  We use PayTrust (originally PayMyBills.com) for “online” bill pay.  We have a P.O. Box somewhere in South Dakota that we’ve redirected all our bills to.  The bills get opened, scanned, we get an email, we enter in a payment amount and date.  No fuss, no muss.  PayTrust even figures out which bills can be electronically delivered and provides an easy interface to set that up directly into the PayTrust account as well.  I haven’t received a bill or written a check in years.  I think we pay something like $9/month for the service.

I just ran across a new service this week called Earth Class Mail (thanks to my colleague Alex Rubin for pointing this out) that does the same thing for ALL of your snail mail, with a twist.  You direct all your mail (presumably not magazines) to a P.O. Box, and they first scan in all the envelopes.  You see them and decide what to do with each item — forward to you, scan in and show you online or via pdf, recycle, shred, etc.  The cost seems to range from $10-60/month depending on volume.

Certainly a good idea, at least for people who travel a lot or people who have to pay for a P.O. Box anyway (not sure it’s for everyone), and another interesting service where email takes center stage as the mission critical delivery vehicle.

Filed under: Email

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Jan 112008

It's Copyright Time

It’s Copyright Time

Brad must be off his game this year, so…time to update all those copyrights to say 2008.  Or as Brad gently suggested last year, make that field variable so you never have to worry about it again!  (Thanks to our CTO Andy Sautins for the reminder here.)

Filed under: Business

Jan 052008

Bad Side Effect of Tropical Heat Waves?

Bad Side Effect of Tropical Heat Waves?

I love David Kirkpatrick’s weekly column called Fast Forward.  In his most recent edition, he talks about the connection between technology and world peace, which is insightful.  But it also led me to click on a link in the first paragraph to Wikipedia and its great map and listing of ongoing global conflicts here

I’m not sure if anyone has ever done any research on this — I’m guessing the answer is yes — but what jumps off the page for me is that all of the ongoing global conflicts today are clustered around the equator.  I do know that crime in urban areas swells in the summer when it’s hot out and tempers flare. 

Not to be too glib, but is it possible that we just need a giant air conditioner around the middle of the planet (an environmentally kind one, of course)?

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