Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Bringing the Home-Based Worker Back to the Mother Ship, Corporate Rain, Entrepreneurship, tags: Best Buy, Boston College, Corporate Rain, Facebook, Gallop Poll, George Mason University, Google, IBM, Jeff Smith, John Sullivan, Kevin Rickman, Marissa Mayer, Michael Pratt, Patric Pichette, Quartz, Reddit, San Francisco State University, Steve Jobs, Watson, Watson Health, Yahoo
Quartz, the cutting-edge NY digital news outlet, caught my eye last week (March 21, 2017) with this headline: “IBM, Remote Work Pioneer, Is Calling Thousands of Employees back to the office.”
This is a big change in direction for Big Blue. As recently as 2009, IBM had 40% of its hirelings working from home.
In fact, a number of companies have quietly begun shifting their home-based associates back to their corporate offices. This trend began to emerge publicly with Marissa Mayer’s startling decision to end Yahoo’s remote work policy back in 2013. Facebook now offers a $10,000 bonus to employees who live close to their office, and many other companies, like Best Buy and Reddit, no longer allow work from home. By September of this year IBM’s over 5,500 marketing people will have to work from physical offices in one of seven central locations: San Francisco, New York, Austin, Armonk, Boston, Atlanta, or Raleigh. Remote work will no longer be an option. (IBM already applies this policy to departments like security, procurement, most of IT, Watson, Watson Health, cloud development, and artificial intelligence.) Companies increasingly feel collaboration, creativity, and community are better fostered in a central office.
As an early successful adopter of the virtual office model with my first entrepreneurial firm, Corporate Rain, in the 1990s, I have always thought “What’s not to like?” After all, you save on office rent, office expenses, and commuting. And research indicates that remote workers are more productive and put in more hours than their office-based kindred. Also, for many people, it has been a partial solution to the work-life balance problem. According to the Gallop Poll, 25% of all American workers are presently laboring remotely.
That said, however, I am increasingly coming to a sense that for many companies, particularly large ones but also some of the small ones, there is a compelling rationale to centrally co-locate their office communities again.
For example, Best Buy reported that productivity had an average increase of 35% in departments that shifted to employees working whenever and wherever they wanted. However, there is a different set of benefits that ensue from central offices–and most of these benefits center around creativity and innovation.
Note John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University, a specialist in HR strategy–again quoting from Quartz. Sullivan says, “It turns out the value of innovation is so strong it trumps any productivity gain….[Remote work] was a great strategy for the 90s but not for 2015.”
Certainly established companies are searching for how to solve the conundrum of creativity and how to come up with the next transformational eureka out of their behemothic institutions.
They long to infuse entrepreneurial passion and disruptive imagination into their titanic old-line firms. Their hidebound strategies aren’t working, therefore renewed office centralization is increasingly favored as a tool to help create a more generative, communal, cohesive business ambience–hopefully one more like the entrepreneurial laboratory.
Jeff Smith, IBM’s CIO, advocates agile management based around “squads”. He says “…leaders have to be with the squads and the squads have to be in a location.”
There increasingly is a valuation of what many call “the watercooler effect.” (Steve Jobs certainly appreciated the value of how chance meetings and accidental conversations can lead to disruptive ideas.) Note a recent study by Kevin Rickman of George Mason University and Michael Pratt of Boston College, who found that increased offsite work can have very negative effects on the office environment. Mason and Pratt state: “If the office is going to become a collection of employees not working together, it essentially becomes no different than a coffee shop (though perhaps with better internet and worse coffee.).” That may be a bit overstated, but perhaps reflective of the most au courant new HR thinking.
When asked what percentage of Google’s workers telecommute, Patric Pichette, then CFO said, “Our answer is: As few as possible.”
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Posted by Tim Askew in Acting, Blog, Business, Corporate Rain, Nude Modeling, tags: Actor's Equity, AFTRA, Al Pacino, Cooper Union, Entertainment Tonight, Hollywood Extra, Jay Leno, Martin Sheen, SAG, School of Visual Arts, Tallulah Bankhead, Tom Hiddleston
Actor Tom Hiddleston says the following, “Actors in any capacity, artists of any stripe, are inspired by their curiosity, by their desire to explore all quarters of life, in light and in dark, and reflect what they find in their work.”
Both actors and entrepreneurs are huge risk-takers: The actor takes emotional risk. The entrepreneur takes financial risk. Good ones are both fundamentally artists.
I was an actor, among other things, for many years before I ever considered being an entrepreneur. I don’t think I’d have succeeded in business without the gifts I gleaned from that experience.
Acting is not a lucrative proposition for most of its practitioners. A ridiculously small percentage of the members of SAG, AFTRA and Actor’s Equity make an actual living acting. It is a hard life. Not at all the romantic, indulgent, cossetted life portrayed on Entertainment Tonight and Hollywood Extra.
But there are non-financial rewards to acting that apply very directly to business. First, you learn the skills of listening and human observation. Good actors are first and foremost good reactors. Two (and a corollary to one), acting teaches you human empathy and understanding at he deepest psychological levels, not just for yourself, but for a multifaria of people. Three, acting teaches honesty, even when you are playing a dishonest character. (Al Pacino says, “I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”) Acting teaches you to understand motivation on many levels. And, therefore, four, it helps you to read people quickly and accurately in life. Five, without actually living the lives of people very different from yourself, you can come to understand what motivates and moves them in even the most quotidian of actions.
Furthermore, the very fact of needing to survive forces actors to take jobs that broaden human and economic understanding. When not working as an actor (which was most of the time when I was a actor), I have personally worked as a bartender, a tennis pro, a cook, a teacher and an assistant dean of students. I was even employed part-time as a nude model for art classes at the School of Visual Arts and Cooper Union in New York. I have actor friends who survived with jobs as variegated as dog walking, prostitution, and cab driving. (One of the oddest survival jobs I ever heard of was that of “stretcher.” This job consisted of hanging young men up and pulling on their legs to make them temporarily tall enough to qualify as policemen or firefighters. I heard Martin Sheen describe this as one of his survival jobs on Jay Leno one night.)
But I think the greatest gift of my failed acting career, to me as an entrepreneur and salesman, was learning to handle rejection. An actor faces very personal rejection day after day in the auditioning process. Compared to that, the simple vicissitudes of selling for any entrepreneurial company are a piece of cake. The process of business selling, with all its to be expected rejection, is as nothing compared to the much more personal rejection of the actor’s daily process.
Finally, the actor’s life is a training in courage. Entrepreneurship is a very personal act of risk-taking. A good actor’s craft is quite akin to this and an excellent form of emotional weight-lifting in preparation for the everyday unpredictability and Darwinian fearsomeness of business.
As Tallulah Bankhead said, “It’s one of the tragic ironies of the theatre that only one man in it can count on steady work–the night watchman.”
Thank you, Tallulah.
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Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Corporate Rain, Dinosaurs, Entrepreneurial Sales, Entrepreneurship, Little Things, tags: "Get Motivated", Dan Rather, General Colin Powell, John Donne, Joshua Dysart, Maureen Dowd, NY Times, Rick Belluzo, Rudy Giuliani, Sir Henry, Steve Forbes, Terry Bradshaw, Verizon Center
Contemporary comic book writer and graphic novelist Joshua Dysart writes: “People, we’re always reaching for these big things…you know? Big ideas…big moments…big lives. And all the while the little things we’re ignoring are undoing us.”
I was reading a Maureen Dowd op-ed a couple of years ago in the NY Times. It was enjoyably full of her scathing, caustic observations, on this occasion commenting on a recent “Get Motivated!” seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington. As usual, Dowd was funny and more than a little mean. And right on.
My general feeling about these massive feel-good inspirational gatherings is that they’re a bunch of hooey. Not wrong in their stated insights, just shallow and quite temporary in their efficacy. Kind of like a business pep rally. Certainly not my cup of tea.
However, amidst Ms. Dowd’s cynical reportage on talks by the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes, Dan Rather and Rick Belluzo, I was caught by some business advice shared by General Colin Powell. His advice? Simply to be nice and particularly to be nice to the little people like the folks who clean your office and park your car (or simply other people on your elevator who sometimes turn out to be the CEO). He also avers the value of small details. For instance, Powell reports writing thank you notes on personalized 4-by-6 inch cards. “I write with a fountain pen. Never a Sharpie. Never a ball point pen. A fountain pen.” Dowd reports.
It seems to me Colin Powell is quite on to a real truth here. It’s little things that set the tone for successful entrepreneurship–little considerations, little details. Focusing on the small decencies creates an ambiance of service and real carefulness in business dealings. It becomes reflected in the larger actions of a company.
To expand on General Powell’s concern for the small things, I always recommend that any missive or serious communication one sends out go on high-quality stationary and be sent by snail mail, ideally with a commemorative stamp. This is sometimes cause for eye-rolling impatience by some cutting-edge entrepreneurs enamored of the wonders of Tweeting, Friending, Linking-in, etc. But there is a method to my antediluvian madness. Yes, it takes extra time and money to communicate in such qualitative ways, but the very effort communicates care and valuation on a subconscious level. There is a sensual subconscious statement that is communicated by the very feel of high-quality stationary. It creates an aura of seriousness, reflecting both respect for your client and the general business process. It unspokenly says exactly the manner you would represent a client and effectively serve her.
Additionally, the very fact that the personal letter is increasingly rare gives special notice to those who use it. It is not a dinosaur inefficiency. It is a notable differentiator that, in the long-term, makes a branding statement, as well as creating a subrosa gravitas and a sense of business seriousness.
Or, as John Donne says in his poem To Sir Henry(1663) “Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Thank you, John Donne.
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The English philosopher Bertrand Russell, in The Impact of Science on Society, states simply, “If you feel love, you have a motive for existence, a reason for action.”
People want to fall in love. A good salesman should let them.
To explain what I mean by this, let me step backwards for a moment. The root of quality selling must always be in having something valid, something true, something genuinely helpful to sell. If you don’t have this, don’t even begin to try to sell. If you try to sell that in which you have no passionate belief or something that is false you are dead. You are a servant of the devil. You are an apostle of the unsavory. You are Bernie Madoff. You are a fraud and incipient thief, as well as a killer of your own soul.
Perhaps this is obvious, but, in truth, good selling begins with a moral choice to purvey a real value and it is essential to know this in advance.
But assuming the real value of your selling proposition, salesmanship is really nothing more than helping people be selfish, helping people do the right thing for themselves. Some of this is listening truly and intently, some of this is sincerely caring about who you are conversing with.
The salesman’s job is to guide people to “fall in love” with that which can raise them up. The salesman’s job is to help a business client succumb to that which, in varying degrees, offers ROI salvation for himself and his firm.
It cannot be denied that most of us associate falling in love with erotic desire. Indeed, like a new lover, a salesman’s job is to make the truth sexy. A passionately told truth is and should be a heart-fluttering aphrodisiac.
Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his profoundly insightful book The Road Less Traveled talks extensively about the nature of love. He states, “…falling in love is a trick that our genes pull on our otherwise perceptive mind to hoodwink or trap us into marriage.” But, for Peck, falling in love is also a tool for initially breaking down barriers separating us all from a deeper love, a deeper truth and an agapic potentiality. Theologian Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”
A good salesman, like a good lover, combines a conscious employment of qualities like looks, charm, wardrobe, and, most importantly, a well-honed charisma of expressed faith in a product. Charisma emanates from a fervid inner truth and an embedded belief. A focused salesman leaves a palpable frisson in his wake and should awake an ardent longing in a potential client to do what is in the client’s best interest anyway. Effective salesmen are evangelists of “the good.
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American business journalist and thinker Henry Hazlitt once wrote:
“A man with a scant vocabulary will most certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.”
Words are wonderful.
They are much more useful in business than they get credit for — particularly in executive sales. But words are not much emphasized or particularly valued in our technology hegemonous world. Sales articles are crammed full of an overwhelming amount of information about psychology, motivation, technology, social media, ROI, SEO, etc., yet seemingly never mention that simple cornerstone of human communication-words. Vocabulary. It’s as if words are unimportant or irrelevant to a modern woman or man. Words are for poets and philosophers, academics and lawyers, journalists and judges. Words are old-fashioned. Words are of the past, supplanted by a world of Twitter abbreviation (OMG, NRN, LOL, TMI, L8R, WTF, etc).
This is utterly wrong. And it is particularly not true about high-end, entrepreneurial business development, which was the specialty of my former executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International. Word usage and proficiency is important in branding a tonality of equal business stature when selling to real strategic corporate decision makers. CEO’s are more well-educated, thoughtful people, trained in the best schools in the world. Or, if they don’t have that specific educational pedigree, are fierce autodidacts. Either way, they are usually people of probing intellect and subtle ability to express and communicate nuance.
Corporate decision makers like to do business with their peers. They want to deal with people of equal business stature. A comfort level with precise and sophisticated word usage is one way of immediately establishing that tonality.
This does not mean to pepper your business conversations with artificially grandiose phrases, fustian excess or arbitrary verbal whimsy. Precise vocabulary can be used simply. But words bring shadings of specificity and descriptive depth, even a sensual enlivening, to the most prosaic of entrepreneurial conversations. (Also, by using new words, I actually learn them).
Last week one of my friends asked me to please write a posting not requiring use of a dictionary. Nah. It would remove too much color and delight. As Woody Allen puts it, “I call him a sadistic, hippophilic, necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.”
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