How Blackberry can Save Itself

May 1, 2012 - One Response

Today is the start of Blackberry Jam, which is RIM’s big kubaya with developers and such. If you know the pain RIM has dealt with in the last three years then you know that the company is likely less than a year away from being sold for parts. A quick summary…

Everyone used to use Blackberries (“Crackberry”). The iPhone came out. RIM’s leaders sat around thinking that the iPhone was a fad and wouldn’t live up to the hype. They continued with this belief for the next two years as Apple gobbled up market share. Android does the same. Nokia gets in bed with Microsoft and POOF, the world’s former King smartphone brand is now a punchline.

So, can it be saved? Yes. Can it be saved without being bought? Er…maybe.

For all its troubles, RIM has three four things going for it:

1. Security. In today’s IT environment there are still purchasing managers who wake up in cold sweats after dreaming that the company servers were hacked via a mobile breach. It’s not that iOS, Windows Phone, or ANdroid are EASY to hack…but RIM has a long reputation of providing top-notch enterprise security on its devices.

2. Enterprise footprint – Because of #1, there are a LOT of people that wear collared shirts to work that still carry Blackberries. Granted, most of them hate the experience but the device is still on the company log nonetheless. These devices will be refreshed eventually, and while the current state of affairs indicates that most of them WON’T be new Blackberries, it never hurts to be the incumbent.

3. Keyboard. Once upon a time RIM made really SLICK hardware. My BB Bold 8900 is my all time favorite phone in terms of hardware. The keyboard was large and the texture of it made typing an absolute breeze. I could type without looking on my Bold as well as I can type without looking on a laptop.

4. Email. Even with the advancements iOS and ANdroid have made in their email systems, Blackberry still has the BEST mobile email. It syncs, it works correctly, it can be filed easily, it saves, it discards, it does everything you would ever want.

So, what does this mean for the future of RIM? FOr starters, RIM needs to cling to its strengths (above) and abandon any ideas of being a “cool” brand like Apple. The “we can be like APple!” thing nearly killed Dell 4 years ago and it is probably going to kill RIM. But until it does, RIM (and Dell, and HP, and HTC, etc) need to quit behaving like their products should carry a price premium like Apple. Next, RIM needs to find some friends….FAST. Finally, RIM needs to build a developer ecosystem ASAP.

In the past year or so, RIM has released crummy devices with crummy software and had no luck getting developers to make Apps for the BB App World Store Zone whatever its called. So its not like my ideas above are new….but how to accomplish them is.

1. Don’t issue any phone without a physical keyboard. As much as I love my iPhone I greatly miss the keyboard of my 8900. There are people out there that carry an iPhone or Android device AND a Blackberry just because of the BB keyboard making it so much easier to type. The fact that someone would carry two phones because of a single-feature that the 2nd phone is superior at (the keyboard of a BB) speaks volumes.

2. Partner up with Dell. I have advocated that Dell buy RIM for some time. Even without an outright purchase, the two brands could work well together. Dell has moved hardcore in to enterprise service sales. They sell storage and hosting and tons of services with fancy words like “Cloud” and “integrations” (plural) and “synergy”. It wouldn’t be hard for Dell to start adding mobile offerings to those huge “solutions” they are selling to enterprise. For all my sniping about Dell, they have a top-notch sales force that is adept at getting lots of different products in to lots of different places. I have no doubt that Dell’s SMB and Enterprise teams could sell the hell out of mobile IF they could sell it as part of a robust package.

3. Partner up with Microsoft. Now we’re getting somewhere. Microsoft’s investment in Nokia is likely going to pay off. By all accounts, the new Windows Phone (and Metro UI) along with Nokia’s new devices are beginning to resonate with customers. Microsoft is also getting a lot more traction with the developer community than RIM ever did. Ditch the crummy Blackberry OS with its crummy browser and crummy app selection. Go with Windows Phone.

With these partnerships, RIM will no longer be an autonomous brand with complete vertical integration of hardware and software. And that’s FINE. A device with the best keyboard available, using top-notch software that integrates with the desktop, a growing app ecosystem, and a sales force capable of getting RIM’s existing enterprise customers to re-up with a new generation of RIM devices.

Startups and Rock N Roll – Part 4 – How we got here

April 13, 2012 - Leave a Response

I’ve written four other posts linking starting a business and programming and being a musician. Scroll down to find them.

******

With surprising frequency I find myself arguing/discussing the end of glam rock with other people. I am an unashamed hair metal enthusiast and marvel at how easily people dismiss a ~10 year period between 1982 and 1992 where bands in spandex, makeup, and hairspray ruled the rock world. Musically most of the songs written by everyone from Night Ranger to Trixter consist of the same chord progressions you hear today from the Black Keys and Jack White, so I find it odd that many people universally say Poison, Skid Row, Cinderella and the like “suck” while new music is awesome. Its really the exact same music, just packaged and processed differently.

Anyway, the prevailing argument from most people is that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the accompanying success of Nirvana “killed” hair metal. This statement is partially true at best and extremely revisionist. The reality is that three things killed hair metal:

1. The Fender Mustang guitar.
2. James Hetfield’s haircut.
3. Vince Neil quitting Motley Crue.

People who point to Nirvana’s (and Pearl Jam’s) huge debut successes conveniently forget that metal was exploding at the same time. Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Anthrax, and Megadeth all crossed over to the mainstream and had their most commercially successful records and tours at the same time. Guns N Roses was filling arenas and stadiums (with Metallica). While MTV was inarguably playing more “grunge” videos, they had not at all backed off playing traditional hair-metal artists. If anything, the genre suffering at the time was pop music as the New Kids on the Block were long gone and NSync was yet to be. There was a near even mix of “Seattle grunge” and “LA metal” on the airwaves between 1991 and 1993.

So what changed things? Simple: new artists and new bands no longer had to focus on the visual component of performance. Kurt Cobain played a Fender Mustang in Nirvana’s videos. The Mustang was a cheap, entry-level guitar that could be had at most pawn shops for under $150. Instead of saving up $800 for a Les Paul, BC Rich, or Ibanez guitar a person interested in learning how to play could get a guitar for $150 that was socially acceptable as “cool.” When James Hetfield cut his hair for the Black Album it represented another turning point; it was no longer necessary to have long hair to be in a rock band. If James Hetfield could lead Metallica with short hair then it was acceptable for high school kids to start bands in their garage without worrying about having long hair. The rest of the pagentry and costumes soon followed in a fall out of style. Suddenly a band could wear shorts and T-shirts like Pearl Jam or Hootie and the Blowfish.

So what was the final death knell for glam rock and hair metal? Simple – the natural order of things dictated that bands released records every two years. When GNR was taking a break then Van Halen had a record. When they were taking a break it was Bon Jovi or Poison. For nearly 12 years between 1980 and 1992, fans could count on one of the 5 or 6 biggest rock bands being on the road and on MTV supporting a record. In the summer of 1992, it was Motley Crue’s turn in the rotation…and they didn’t release an album. Suddenly there was a void in the “name” hair-metal bands in the music-fan consciousness. This void was filled by the Lollapalooza which owned the summer of 1992 with a tour featuring Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

ALl in all, the death of hair metal was not the advent of grunge but something much simpler: the barrier to entry had been lowered substantially. A band could play the same chord progressions they always had but no longer needed to dress up like girls in leather pants and have lasers at their shows and play $1000 guitars. It became cheaper to have the equipment needed to start a band and it became simpler to “look” like a performing musician.

******

Technology startups followed the same path a decade later. It used to be that it was expensive to start a software business. It required a specialized knowledge set, access to expensive equipment, money to pay hosting costs and marketing costs. Now the barrier has been lowered. A reasonable business idea can be launched with a few hundred dollars and some passion. No longer do CEO’s need to be 50 year olds in suits but rather can be 22 year olds in hoodies and flip flops.

An argument can made that rock music started going downhill when it became easy for everyone to participate. The same argument can be made about the internet and the app store: there are a LOT of bad websites and bad apps out there. That said, it’s important to realize that more people participating in the creation of things, whether it be music or websites, should be applauded as a good thing as it advances the overall culture around us. Zuckerberg probably couldn’t have started facebook in 1990 just as Radiohead might have never gotten on radio in 1990. Sometimes lowering the barrier to entry is a good thing.

Half.

April 6, 2012 - One Response

Today is my birthday. I’m 35, and while 35 doesn’t have the same ring to it as turning 21, or 30, or 40…this one has gotten me thinking more than any other in a long time. I used to joke that 25 was a more important birthday than 21. At 21, you could buy alcohol finally but most people have a way to get alcohol long before they officially turn 21. 25, however, means you are too old for Spring Break with the college kids. 25 also means that if you don’t have a job then you’re not “finding yourself” anymore; you are just plain lazy.

35 is hitting me harder for two reasons. First, at 35 I realize I am no longer a “young man.” Maybe I haven’t been a young man in a long time, but I’ve always felt like one. I’ve always felt like I was “young” in the sense that all of my potential was still in front of me and the possibilities for my life were endless. Now, I’m not so sure that’s the case. I’m not sad or regretful….I’m just more aware of the passage of time.

Secondly, even though people in my family have often lived well in to their 70’s or 80’s, it always occurred to me that living to 70 would be a ripe old age. 35 is obviously halfway to 70. I’m not sure I believe my life is exactly half over…I’m just more aware that the halfway point isn’t as distant as it used to be.

So what? Well, in 35 years I’ve done some amazing things. I’ve accumulated some amazing experiences and have some amazing relationships. I’ve been on wild adventures and I’ve taken the time to stop and listen to the breeze blow by. I know what I like and the type of person I am. I know what’s important and I know how I like to spend my time. I know that 35 years from now I hope to be sitting on a porch with my family, watching the waves roll in, while listening to Van Morrison sing “In to the Mystic”.

Happy 35th birthday, me.

Customer service call centers

March 25, 2012 - Leave a Response

I am of the opinion that you can find out how dedicated a company is to great customer service by evaluating how easy or difficult it is to get a representative of that company on the phone.

Lots of companies bury the 800 number on their website where it isnt easily found. They are telling you “please don’t call”. If the “Contact Us” link brings up a web form and not a phone number then you are in for a long ride. Most companies do publish a number somewhere, however, so you can call if you are diligent enough to locate the number.

At this point it is important to point out that i said you can call them but made no promised about talking to anyone. With increasing annoyance, phone systems are now made of menus for everything. Im of the habit of just saying “agent” as soon and as often as possible until the system connects me to someone. But in recent years that doesnt even seem to work. Press 1 for this, press 2 for that and so on and so forth.

The big picture is puZzling: if a customer cares enough to call then they likely need to have an issue that needs to be solved or a question answered. Yes, automated systems are cheaper then call centers, but the increase in customer dissatisfaction is a steep price to pay. EVERYONE would prefer talking to a human over a dial-menu automated system.

Friday night I called the Local apple store to Ask a question about Apple Care. Apple uses an automated system that sounds like a human and is supposed to be able to help. I was calling from my backyard and didn’t have my product serial number so the system just kept repeating itself in asking me for it. I hung up and called back and chose a different option only for the system to tell me I had to go online for that kind of help. I called back and said “agent” and the system kept prompting me to do different things such as tell it what I was calling for. After a few seconds of saying “agent” the apple phone system HUNG UP ON ME.

So now i was fairly ticked off. The fourth time I called back I raised my voice and – using a few swear words – told the automated voice that I wanted to talk to a human.

The system replied: “transferring you to an agent right away”.

So at least now I know how to talk to someone at the end of the line at Apple.

****

If you make it difficult for customers to reach a real live person than they will eventually take the hint that their individual concerns are not as important to you as they are to them. And they will take their business elsewhere. The key to delivering a great customer experience is to make sure the customer knows they will be taken care of AFTER they have initially given you their money. At Signature-Electronics, we work hard to make sure that problems are solved proactively. We aren’t perfect, but at least if you have a problem you’ll never have to worry about getting a member of our team on the phone.

Free Startup Idea – Travel Anywhere if the price is right.

March 11, 2012 - One Response

My wife and I like to travel but we rarely care where we go. We just like to go experience new things together. We’d be as happy with a weekend in Denver as a week in Des Moines. Here is the idea…

Build a travel site.
Instead of making me enter the city I’m leaving from and the place I’m going to and when I want to go, simply do this:

1. I enter where I want to leave from.
2. I enter how long I want to be gone.
3. I enter how soon I want to leave – 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months.
4. Show me everything available, lowest price to highest.

That’s it. Just show me where I can go for the least amount of money. I would book 6 trips a year with this, if not more. If Southwest is flying from Austin to Atlanta next week for $140 round trip, I’d probably go. If Delta is flying from Austin to Long Beach for $160 round trip in two months, I’d probably go. Just show me where I can go in the near term for the least amount of money. Collect the $7 referral fee that airlines pay travel sites.

That’s it.

Show me everything available.

How to sell Efficiency

March 9, 2012 - Leave a Response

Many new products in the B2B world promise to increase “efficiency” in the workplace. The leading idea in B2B sales for a long time has been to sell something that helps the customer make more money with the time/work they have or make the same amount of money while working less.

Both of these are essentially what selling “efficiency” means: the goal is to make the customer’s processes work faster or easier or more cheaply then they do now, thus leading to a greater return on invested capital, time, or energy.

The problem is that most B2B solutions do not increase efficiency or make life easier for the customer. At best they are simply new ways to manage the same old problems. At worst they are simply another tool in a sea of promised solutions that actually makes like more difficult and cumbersome for the customer.

So how do you sell efficiency? The most important part of the sale occurs long before you’ve pitched the customer. First and foremost, you have to make sure your product is truly an improvement over the existing solutions. Trading out Salesforce for SAP isn’t about efficiency anymore then using Chatter instead of Yammer is. Both are simply solving the same problems in different ways and come down to user preference.

The best way to sell efficiency is to sell a solution that solves two problems for the effort/price of one. A solution that makes email more efficient up front but generates a sales pipeline in the background is a solution selling efficiency. A solution that makes storage simple up front while providing automated documentation in the background is selling efficiency. Making it so the user can do task A while ALSO getting task B done without additional effort is selling efficiency. Combining tasks in to one platform is the smallest type of efficiency you can sell, and the one most easily replaced when a truly efficient solution comes about.

If you want to build a product that makes your customers more efficient, don’t spend time making the work they do easier; that’s a marginal gain. Instead, build a product that takes the input needed for one task and automatically generates results for task 2, 3, 4, etc. Reducing your customer’s workload a little is not efficiency. Reducing your customer’s workload a LOT is.

At Signature Electronics we work to reduce the time and cost of procuring large bills of material. We work hard so our customers don’t spend too much time pricing out components when they would be better off talking to their customers or working on new designs. Check us out at http://www.signature-electronics.com!

Signature Electronics provides complete kits, ready for production

March 7, 2012 - One Response

Whether your next build is large or small, high mix or low, Signature Electronics can help streamline your supply chain and reduce your total procurement costs. Send us your BOM and we’ll reply with a single price, one-box solution that keeps your build on schedule and saves you money!

Visit http://www.signature-electronics for more information!

How to make money from your blog.

March 2, 2012 - 2 Responses

My friend asked the following:

“My wife is looking to start a website / blog / cookbook, and we were trying to figure out the best way to go about it in terms of monetizing it. Hoping to get some tips from the folks here who have done these sorts of things successfully and built up web/publishing businesses at home that have generated some cash.

Here’s my initial I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-talking-about thinking in terms of options:

1. Write book, seek to have it published through traditional mechanisms, maybe a website/blog to follow
2. Write book, self publish, perhaps just as E-book in Amazon store etc. (fairly easy to do and inexpensive from what I understand, and if it catches on, you can start raking in some decent loot)
3. Write blog, collect revenue from Google adwords or some other advertising mechanism (my thinking on the upside here is you can generate interest perhaps, but the downside seems to be: why would anyone pay for your book on Amazon when they can read your blog for free?)
4. Start website that includes blog and other info there

She has a couple really interesting ideas that relate to baby stuff and cooking stuff, and I think if done right, and done the right way logistically, they could end up being pretty interesting.”

Making money on the internet is easy. Most people thing it is hard, but that is because most people see money in binary form – there is none of it or there is lots of it. The truth is that making a LOT of money on the internet is extremely difficult. In fact, making more then a LITTLE money on the internet can be a challenge. But making SOME money – going from $0 to a number higher than $0 is extremely easy. Most people also are averse to the hard work it takes to make money online. THey think that they could/should be able to put up a website and sit back to watch the money roll in.

You can make minimum wage on Mechanical Turk. Minimum wage sucks when you’re making hamburgers or cleaning cars, but it’s probably not too terrible when you’re sitting on the couch watching the Knicks game. You can create content for content farms and buy up domains and park them with ads. The money isn’t likely to be much more then minimum wage either but it IS out there for the taking. If you want to mix online and offline then there are TONS of customer service call-centers that outsource their workers to home offices (like Alpine Access). They pay closer to $10 an hour.

There are also a zillion different ways to create a blog and monetize it (which hits at my friend’s question). Ads, affiliate links, selling a downloadable PDF or e-book, linking to something at Click-Bank….there are no fewer than 100 different ways to “put up a website” and “make money.”

But it takes time.

Lots.

And.

Lots.

Of.

Time.

The adage that “time equals money” is nowhere more true then online. If you create a blog and put Google Ads on it (this is the simplest way to make SOME money online) then you will likely start off with too few visitors to make more than a few pennies each month. However, if you spend TIME posting interesting content (your own or linking to others) then your audience will build and eventually the amount of money you make from the ads will increase. How much content will it take? Presuming you aren’t in porn, then it takes A LOT. And it takes time to make that content.

* * * * *

I maintain a blog that I haven’t touched in nearly four years. The blog has three posts on it. One is called “World War 1 in a Nutshell.” One is called “Monet vs. Manet.” One is a history of political parties. All three posts took me about an hour to write. I have never promoted the blog and rarely mention it to anyone. ANd through normal search traffic it garners about 20 page views each day, all of them unique. The page views are almost evenly split between the Monet post and the War post. So let’s say that I would have created a post each day that was of the same quality and produced the same results (10 page unique page views a day). One post per day times 4 years would mean that I’d have around 1500 posts now. That would be about 15,000 page views a day. Assuming a $2 CPM (that is $2 for every 1,000 impressions) I would be earning $30 a day, or right around $10k for the year. Having an extra 10 grand a year would be awesome. Spending 1500 hours (6 months of 8 hour work days) is a lot of time to make $10,000. That comes out to a wage of ~$6.66 an hour.

If I had loved writing those posts I probably would have kept at it for free, so the $10,000 would have felt easy. But the posts had to be researched and I didn’t really have a passion for it, so working for that long to build the content seemed a waste of time. As a result, I leave the blog up and get a laugh every time college exam week rolls around and traffic spikes as World History and Art History students head to the internet to find information.

* * * * * *

To my friend’s question I would say this: the most basic way for his wife to monetize the blog or site or whatever is fairly simple.

1. She needs to do something that she has passion for
2. The topic needs to be something that she will be interested in for a while.
3. She WOULD DO FOR FREE.

The last part is important because she may be posting baby food recipes or blog postings or links to articles or whatever for a long time without any noticeable increase in cash flow. The second part is important because her own baby will grow up and maybe discussing babies and baby food will no longer be interesting to her when she’s running junior to soccer practice.

In other words, is this a topic she is passionate about for the long term? Or is it a topic she is interested in right now because it applies to her current life in a phase that will change? The distinction is important; the internet is littered with Poker blogs that all seemed to start in 2003 (when a non-pro won the WSOP and suddenly everyone thought they could be a poker player) and haven’t been updated since 2006 (when all those people realized that making money playing cards is a grind).

As for affiliate links and e-books and click-bank traffic, the answer is “sure, why not.” Starting a blog with the intent of making money is typically a bad idea for the reasons I detailed above: if you are interested in money more than the subject matter then you are likely going to lack the passion to do it for a long time. So the monetization doesn’t matter since you’ll have moved on to something else before you make any real money.

My advice to my friend and others interested in getting online and making some money through a blog is to worry about creating a blog they enjoy posting on as often as possible and worry about the money later. The challenge is easy: post at least one thing to a blog every day for six months. Every day means seven days a week. Post 180 days in a row and (1) you will have some decent seed content and (2) you will either be sick of the blog or you will be more excited then ever before. And if it’s the latter, finding ways to make money through ads or your own self-published book or whatever will start to make sense and will be easy.

Lest you think that I’m leaving you hanging without any upside, there is a way to make a LOT of money online that doesn’t include building the next Google or Facebook. It takes just as much time (or more) than the previous examples but it can be very lucrative for individuals.

Build a brand. Make every posting, every link, every video, everything out of your mouth and on your site lend credence to the idea that you (1) know what you are talking about (2) are entertaining or (3) both.

Bill Simmons began his own personal sports blog in the mid-90’s because he loved pop culture and sports. He no doubt hoped to become a professional writer at some point, but it is unlikely he envisioned he would be interviewing the President of the United States 15 years later for his personal website. His passion and unique voice built his brand, a little bit at a time, until running Google Ads or selling affiliate products was beneath him; he sells his own books and has an ad network devoted to his site. Simmons took his passion in a blog and cultivated it to “The Sports Guy” brand that is well known (if not well respected) by a large number of sports fans.

Gary Vaynerchuk took a passion for business and turned his father’s liquor store in to an online brand worth millions. He started by making videos about wine that were entertaining and informative. He may have the worst pallet on earth but it doesn’t matter at all: his brand makes him an authority on wine and business and it is paying off. He runs a venture fund and makes money writing books and doing speaking engagements.

You can do the same, but it takes passion, dedication, and TIME.

So if you want to start a blog and gain value from it, focus on something that you love. This blog is about technology business and board level component kitting. That’s because those are things we love.

Making money online is not hard, but the rate or return for blogs and content creation is typically in direct relation to the time, passion, and energy put in to the content. There are no exponential growth curves and big pay days. Still interested?

Lazy User Interfaces on the Web.

February 28, 2012 - Leave a Response

User interface has a lot more to do with how something looks. It isn’t just about gradients and colors and text choices and how the photo-feed is laid out. THose things are actually unimportant compared to how the site or product actually WORKS, that is to say how the user interacts with the product.

Is the interaction smooth? Is it intuitive? Does it make sense? Does it waste time? Is everything included essential or is some of it wasteful?

I buy a lot of things online in the course of running my business. I typically place 5-10 online orders a day. Some vendors get more of our business simply because they make ordering online easier. And some vendors lose our business because they seem to pull out all the stops in making ordering online a major league pain in the ass.

One of our vendors has a checkout form that requires the user to select the country where the product is being shipped. Fair enough. But the dropdown menu has no default selection and is in Alphabetical order. So the first choice is Afghanistan followed by every other country out there. You have to scroll all the way down to “U” for “United States of America.” I’m not going out on limb to say that there is a zero percent chance they have ever shipped something to Afghanistan. In fact, I’d bet that this company (Avnet Electronics) has not ever shipped to 90% of the countries on the list. So why does the country drop-down menu at checkout include all of these choices?

BECAUSE THE WEBMASTER IS LAZY.

He took a plugin from someone else’s library (or simply plugged in a pre-built checkout solution) and never thought of it again. Is it a big deal? Not really. But fixing the default to be USA or putting USA at the top of the list like Future Electronics does would be a significant improvement. And it would be easy to do if the person cared at all.

Don’t be lazy when you design something. Whether you are designing a piece of software, a piece of sheet metal, a company presentation, or a child’s birthday cake, being lazy is the worst thing you can do because it tells people around you, “Hey look at me… I don’t care enough to do a good job!”

Don’t be that guy.

Managers.

February 27, 2012 - Leave a Response

Most people have no idea what makes a good manager. This is why so many people complain about their managers and why so many managers do a poor job.

I used to work for a big company that had a TON of middle managers. They sat around all day making excel reports of revenue projections from our team of 10. Then they “rolled up” those reports to their manager who rolled them up to his, etc. etc. until 50 people had been involved in making a spreadsheet that was outdated and inaccurate the moment it was complete. Not long after i left that job I heard they had laid off a lot of middle managers. Predictably, absolutely nothing changed for the worse at the company without all of those people “managing” things.

The most popular misconception is that managers are good at managing if they are good at delegating activities and tasks. The next most popular misconception is that a manager is good at managing if they are good at “rallying the troops” or “inspiring” others or getting their team “fired up.”

The truth is that good managers are neither of these things. In fact, both “head delegator” (sp?) and “head cheerleader” sound like ridiculous wastes of time.

A good manager is a person that MANAGES to create an environment where those he/she manages can best do their job.

The literal misconception is that a “manager” manages people.
The literal reality is that a “manager” should manage the work environment and process on behalf of the people.

What does this mean? It means that a good manager removes distractions and general bullshit that keep Brilliant Engineer Ted from focusing all his energy on being a brilliant engineer. It means that a good manager deflects the needle-prick distractions that reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of his workers. So when Larry the HR Guy has to fill out another expense report instead of finishing the new comp plan, his manager has failed him.

“Wait, WHAT?” you say. You think I’ve just described the perfect manager as being – essentially – an administrative assistant. BINGO. The BEST manager is the one who handles all the crap that the worker would rather not do so that they can focus on what they are good at. The BEST manager is the one who uses their best skills and abilities to create a place where everyone else can use their best skills and abilities.

This misunderstaing is why there are so many bad managers. Most managers think that the people reporting to them work FOR them. Nothing could be further from the truth. The BEST managers work for the people reporting to them. They work to make sure the people “under” them can focus on their jobs. They make sure the coffee stays hot so the designer can keep working on the new presentation. They listen to angry customers complain on the phone for an hour so the salesperson can call the next customer and the next and the next. They make it so that the worker they are managing goes home and says, “I had a great day at work…I got a lot done and really applied myself” without ever realizing that the manager did 15 pain-in-the-ass tasks during the day on behalf of the worker.

The BEST managers are like a left tackle in football – they offer protection to their quarterback and make his life easier. They make it so the quarterback doesn’t even realize the right defensive end spent all afternoon trying to take his head off. The BEST managers are like the guy running the sound-board at a concert…no one really sees him back there but he makes the band sound better by twisting the dials and creating an environment for the music to be great. (*As a note, music is one of the places where “managers” are actually doing “management” work. Tour managers and road managers handle details and distractions so that the band can focus on putting on a great performance. They don’t boss the band around and delegate tasks to others; they do the grunt work and no one ever knows they are there*)

If you want to be a good manager, you need to recognize that you work FOR the workers and not the other way around. You need to be focused on making your workers jobs easier even if it means making your own more difficult. You have to understand that your most successful days will be when you feel like you have been dropped in a meat-grinder…but all your employees are getting a lot of good work done.

ANd if you want to be a crummy manager, well that isn’t that hard at all. Just do what you’ve seen other managers do and you’ll probably be on the right track.