Posts Tagged ‘Penelope Trunk’

Five reasons to start delegating more today

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

It is a simple fact that I am terrible at delegating.

I have a very hard time giving work to someone else to complete. Even when I’m trying to think of tasks to delegate, when I am purposely trying to trim down my workload, I have trouble delegating.

But now I have a secret weapon.

Last week, on my company’s anniversary, I hired my first full-time employee. Cara doesn’t have an official job title yet, she is a jack-of-all-trades. I hired her because she is smart, flexible, likes variety, and because she is the best delegator I have ever met in my life.

Pointing finger delegatesCara takes delegating to a whole new level, not because she is lazy, but because she is efficient. She is willing to do anything if it has a purpose, but if it is useless busy work, she’ll be happy to explain why. If she’s working on a project that can be outsourced to someone else who is not fully occupied with work, she’ll demonstrate how that makes sense. She is also excellent at training other people (which is a big part of delegating). Cara is a master delegator.

In the one week since Cara’s worked with me, her delegation skills have already begun to transform my business. And watching her thought-processes has given me some really good insight into why every person in every business should start delegating more today.

1. Teaching a job to someone else shows you where there are holes in your logic or where you’re taking too many steps. As I’ve begun to explain process-oriented work to Cara, she asks me questions that point out unnecessary steps or reveal a better way to do things. Today I was explaining how to check something from the admin section of a Web site. To do so involves a separate URL, login information and instructions on how to access the data. That process works, but Cara asked why we couldn’t just find the information from the public Website. Turns out we could, and that saved us about 10 unnecessary steps. Just by explaining the steps and having someone ask a question, we saved time and streamlined a lengthy process.

2. Feeling like you have to do something is a lot of pressure; it’s easier to think more creatively when you aren’t stressed with looming projects. I have a to do list that stretches for pages in my notebook. There are many items on that list that have been there for months. They are always on that list, always in the back of my mind; projects that I need to tackle but haven’t been able to get to. If there is a project that has been on your to do list for more than two months, think about delegating it. You aren’t getting it done, so at least some progress will be made if you give it to someone else.

3. Giving away something old and established makes way for something new and innovative. I have a number of repetitive projects that take up a portion of my week every week. These things are always there; kind of like during college on the weekends when I could not ever relax because I knew that there was a book to read or a paper to write. By delegating those kinds of projects, your mind has more room to be creative and to spend time on less process-oriented problems.

4. Establishing processes allows you to delegate and to increase your output in multiples. It’s fairly obvious that it is much easier to outsource something if there is a process for how it gets done. By creating processes around work, and figuring out how to get other people to help do the work, there is another benefit – the total amount of work that you can get done increases exponentially. An good example is the human powered search engine Mahalo. The site employs Guides who help to create pages that can be searched. There is a process to creating those Mahalo pages, and by making sure that everyone who works on the site knows the process, the site can grow faster as new Guides are added.

5. Freeing up extra time will allow you to write that blog post that you’ve been putting off for a week (or longer). More time for other work is the most obvious reason to delegate.

(BONUS) 6. Believing that you are the only one that can do a task isn’t helpful for you and isn’t helpful for your business. And it’s probably not true. This is the most common protest made by over-achievers and perfectionists who think that they can do the work the best or the fastest or without any help. And this notion is dangerous because trying to run a business completely alone will not work. And in most cases, it’s better to get 80% of the work done at 80% skill level than 40% of the work done at 100% skill level. On top of this, it’s usually not true that no one else could do the work.

When this article first came out, I printed it out and tacked it to my bulletin board at work because of this section:

“Moving into any new position requires that you get rid of the stuff from your old position. This means delegating. It means getting over the idea that you were indispensable on any of your old teams. You can’t do you new job well if you’re still doing your old job.

Delegating your old job should take three days. You find people who are taking a step up when they accept pieces of your old job so that they are excited. You give them an explanation of how to do it and tell them where to go when they have questions.

You are going to tell me that one day is not enough, that you have a very complicated job. But think of it this way: If you died today, your job would be delegated in a couple of days.

Delegating is not enough, though. You have to stop caring. If you are no longer on a project because you got a promotion, then you have to stop obsessing about how the project is doing.”

I try to keep that advice in mind, but I’ve already admitted that it’s a challenge for me. If you’re bad at delegating, try these seven tips to becoming a better delegator. But whatever you do, start delegating more today.

Photo by Mykl Roventine

The multiple personalities of Twitter

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

A couple of months back, I wrote a post about my love/hate relationship with Twitter. In that article, I talked about what I see as being the big downfall of Twitter, which is that it is hard to quickly and easily get people using and understanding it. Twitter is hard to explain, there is no key selling proposition, people sign up and then leave, and the language of Twitter is hard to understand.

People moving quicklyBut now I am starting to grasp what I think is the real reason that it’s so hard to catch onto Twitter – everyone uses it for something different. And because there is no standard way of using Twitter, it’s hard to watch the Twitter stream (the flow of posts to Twitter) and figure out what’s going on and how you should participate. When users sign up, they have to just jump right in and start posting and participating.

The flexibility of Twitter is both its genius and its downfall.

It’s unlikely that anyone sticks with just one way of using Twitter all the time. Most people bounce back and forth between the various ways of using the service. But for me, my Twitter epiphany happened when I picked one primary way of using the service – the way that “fit” me and felt right – and stuck primarily with that. Now, about 6 months and 284 updates into my own use of Twitter, I’m finally starting to hit my Twitter groove.

Here are just a few of the many ways that people use Twitter. If you are someone who has used Twitter and quit, of if you are trying to get started, but just can’t figure out how, try picking one of these that feels best to you and go with it for a week – and see what happens.

Talking to people. If you see a post with an @ sign in it, that post is directed to the Twitter user whose name follows the @ sign. So if you write a post and include @mchang16 in that post, you’re talking to me. Not only do people use this for talking to people they know, but also to respond to other people’s Twitter thoughts and comments – it’s a way to have a conversation. Amanda Chapel (@AmandaChapel) does this quite a bit.

Promotional tool. People post links to their own stuff. The most prominent of these is probably Michael Arrington of TechCrunch (@TechCrunch), who posts a link to a new article every time one goes up on his site. My friend Denise (@ddubie), who is a writer at Network World, also does this very effectively.

Information gathering. If you see someone post a question looking for input or feedback on a specific topic, they are likely using Twitter for information gathering. Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan) uses Twitter to post questions fairly frequently, sometimes for blog posts he’s working on and often just to stir up conversation.

To cover events. Because Twitter is easy to use on a mobile phone, people can easily use the service to report on live events. This happens quite a bit at technology conferences (where many Twitter users converge), as well as during natural disasters (San Diego fires) or sporting events (Celtics vs. Lakers – GO CELTICS!!) Sometimes people use a # sign to indicate that they are writing a post about a specific topic/event. (Those are called Hashtags – and you can read more about them here if you’re interested in following or covering an event.)

Create a group of like-minded people. It’s possible to set up an account at Twitter that multiple people can participate in – creating a group. The one I’m most familiar with is Lyric of the Day, which was set up by Fred Wilson (@FredWilson). Members of the group submit a lyric every day, starting the message with @lotd. Check it out here.

Linking to cool stuff on the Web. Many people post cool, interesting or helpful links that they find elsewhere on the Web in Twitter for others to see. This type of post is a way to share the knowledge. Steve Rubel (@SteveRubel) is a Twitter user who often posts interesting links to articles, stories, etc. (A quick aside – my one pet peeve with this type of post is that Twitter changes URLs into TinyURLs to save on space, but I like to be able to see the URL to identify what site I’ll be going to if I click a link.)

Answer the question “What are you doing?” This seems to be the original reason that Twitter came into existence – to let people comment on what they are doing so that people they know can follow them and what they’re up to. Two of my favorite bloggers use Twitter this way Dooce (@dooce) and Penelope Trunk (@PenelopeTrunk).

It’s with this last type of Twitter posts that I’ve mostly settled. You’ll see the occasional promotional Twitter, or conversational Twitter, or link to something cool and interesting Twitter coming from me. But the majority of my posts now answer the question “What are you doing?”

Follow me at @mchang.

Photo by sonictk

Don't sacrifice your blog in the name of productivity

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

I have been working more than ever lately, but my blog posts have been scarce. This is no accident. But it is a mistake.

A couple of weeks back I wrote this post about productivity on Tuesdays. That realy got me thinking about my own productivity and what days of the week I am able to get work done. The initial inspiration for the post was this one by Penelope Trunk, which suggested, among other things, that if Tuesdays are the most productive day of the week, we should focus more on Wednesdays and Thursdays to try to make those days equally productive.

So I’ve been trying to consciously think about my productivity. And I have hit upon a great way to make myself productive. The past two weeks I have been picking one major (or difficult) item on my to-do list, and working on it the entire day until it’s done. That way, at the end of the week I will be able to cross five major items off my list. Any time that I have left in a given day, I work on the odds-and-ends that are left. Including my blog.

This strategy has worked great for getting those major projects done. (I finished four last week, one was so big that it took two days.) But the problem is, the other stuff – the everyday work – isn’t getting done. As evidenced by the sparse posts to this blog.

GrowingSo this week I am going to try a new tactic. I’m going to schedule only 3 major things to get done this week and see if I can get caught up on the rest of my stuff. Because sacrificing my blog in the name of productivity is a bad idea.

This blog may be fairly insignificant in the scheme of things, but as far as my business goes, it has been essential in ways that I couldn’t imagine.

1. I have gotten consulting jobs because of my blog. Multiple jobs. When I hand out my business card, it has my company Website and my blog URL. People usually go to both. When they read the Pure Incubation site, the first question is usually “What do you do?” Followed by the statement “I don’t get it.” This is understandable because what I’m trying to do is uncommon and unusual, and I am trying to be vague on my site until I launch some products. But people get my blog. And my blog gets me jobs.

2. I am more engaged with the business community because of my blog. I don’t live in Silicon Valley, arguably the heart of the Internet Web 2.0 world that I’m trying to play in. But by blogging, and commenting on other people’s blogs (and have them commenting on mine), I am able to get involved in the conversation in a way that I wouldn’t be able to be involved if I wasn’t saying something. This recent post about women technology start-up founders sparked conversation from lots of interesting folks, including two who I really admire: Sarah Lacy, who released her first book last week: Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0; and Penelope Trunk, who I mention all the time in this blog and who is really my blogging idol, if there is such a thing.

3. My family and friends read my blog. Not everyone I know reads my blog, but the people who do have a better understanding of what I’m doing. I talked to my dad last night, and he told me that he follows what I’m up to with my business through the blog. And my Aunt Mary told me that she feels like she is more connected to me because she reads what I’m up to and thinking about at work. I’m glad that my dad and aunt are reading. When I go home to visit this weekend, they won’t look at me with blank stares when I talk about my business and how things are going. I like that.

4. Blogging helps me be more creative. I love writing, I always have, so the process of coming up with a topic and writing about it helps to get all of my creativity churning. I find that the process of writing a blog post often helps me think of new things to work on for my business, and often helps me discover new business models and stuff that’s out there that I wouldn’t otherwise have found – like Gary Vaynerchuk and Wine Library TV. If you’re not watching, you should be.

5. When I write a blog post, things happen. I’ve noticed this past week that my email from random people has slowed down, my traffic stats are a bit stagnant and I feel generally down about my business. This is a normal feeling for entrepreneurs to have on occassion, but I realize now that posting to my blog helps to lessen this. Because when I blog, I reconnect with my community, get support from the other entrepreneurs out there, and things happen. And it’s that thrill of activity that keeps me going when things get hard with the business, which happens all the time.

It turns out that I learned a bigger lesson this week than just the one on productivity – I realized just how important my blog is to my business. So if you have a blog, keep writing! If you don’t have a blog, go get one today. And then check back in three months to let me know how it changed your business (or life). I know it will.

Photo by Editor B

The #1 most important personality trait of an entrepreneur

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

There are a lot of things that go into starting a business – fearlessness, dedication, risk-taking, money and perhaps a bit of stupidity. But the number one characteristic that seems to be common in all entrepreneurs is their adaptability – their willingness to change plans and go in a different direction when needed.

In her blog today, Penelope Trunk wrote that it really isn’t possible to know if your idea for a start-up is any good. I agree with her. And I believe that this is the reason that founders need to be so adaptable. If you don’t know if an idea is any good before you start, it’s highly possible that along the way you might find out that it isn’t that good. Or that there is a better idea. If that happens (and it often does), you need to be willing to make a change, and quickly. “Founders need to be adaptable,” says Jessica Livingston, author of the book Founders at Work. “Not only because it takes a certain level of mental flexibility to understand what users want, but because the plan will probably change. People think that startups grow out of some brilliant initial idea like a plant from a seed. But almost all the founders I interviewed changed their ideas as they developed them.”

Changed priorites ahead signYesterday, Chris came home from work and told me that his company received their third FDA approval. This is a big deal in the medical device industry because it’s the point when a company can start marketing and selling its products (i.e. making money). I started to congratulate him but he told me not to bother. It turns out that after they had sent the application for approval, the designers discovered a flaw, so they are already working on version 2 of this device. Although they got the approval, the product is essentially going to be tossed out. He didn’t seem too phased. “Things change,” he said.

This flexibility is something that I’m working on as a key component of my start-up. I have to be flexible since a core part of my business model is starting a lot of businesses at the same time, some of which will not go as planned. At my first board meeting, one of the board members suggested that I start a software company as one of my launches for Pure Incubation. This wasn’t one of the original plans, but it seems like a good idea – possibly even a great idea (no one knows for sure yet!) – so I’m going to be flexible and incorporate that business idea.

Here are some other stories from the people profiled in the book Founders at Work:

“Over the years, I’ve learned that the first idea that you have is irrelevant. It’s just a catalyst for you to get started. Then you figure out what’s wrong with it and you go through phases of denial, panic, regret. And then you finally have a better idea and the second idea is always the important one.” – Arthur von Hoff, cofounder, Marimba

“We built this app for the Palm Pilot, which was getting pretty good growth. We were getting 300 users a day. Then we built a demo for the website, which was functional, so you could do everything on the website that you could do on a Palm Pilot, except the website was unsexy and we really didn’t care. It was like, ‘Go to the website and download the Palm Pilot version. It’s really cool.’…Sometime by early 2000, we realized that all these people were trying to use the website for transactions, and the growth of that was actually more impressive than the growth of the handheld device, which was inexplicable because the handheld device one was cool and the website was just a demo…We had the moment of epiphany, and for the next 12 months just iterated like crazy on the website version of the product, which is today’s PayPal.” – Max Levchin, cofounder, PayPal

“I came up with the idea to do a simple-to-install database at the back end. Then you’d use the browser as the front end. It could store any piece of information at the back, but the browser would be used to display it…So I wrote a business plan and didn’t know what to do with it…I knew Jack and knew that he was a great software and hardware engineer. So I shared this idea with him…While we were putting the business plan…together and were working at FirePower Systems, they installed a firewall around our corporate intranet that prevented us from dialing out to our personal email accounts. I had an account at Stanford and Jack had one at AOL, so we would dial out and email each other. but we couldn’t do that anymore because the firewall prevented us from accessing our personal accounts. So we ended up exchanging information on floppy disks and on physical pieces of paper. That’s when it occurred to us, ‘Wait a minute, we can access any website in the world through a web browser. If we made email available through the web browser, that would solve our problem.’ ” – Sabeer Bhatia, cofounder, Hotmail

“Entrepreneurs have to keep adjusting to…everything’s changing, everything’s dynamic, and you get this idea and you get another idea and this doesn’t work out and you have to replace it with something else. Time is always critical because somebody might beat you to the punch.” – Steve Wozniak, cofounder, Apple Computer

“[Our original idea was not just a DVR.] It was this flamboyant, home server network thing. And we actually got funded based on that. When we got into the technology, we realized, ‘Hey, network technology isn’t quite there yet. The idea of a server is fine, but how do you explain it to the average consumer?’ We learned very quickly that this was going to be a hard sell and a hard thing technologically…We went back to the VCs and said, ‘Thank you very much for the money. We’ve changed our minds. Here’s what we’re going to do and here’s why we think it’s a good idea.’ ” – Mike Ramsay, cofounder, TiVo

“Flickr was kind of a lark. It was a side project that we built while we were in the process of building Game Neverending. The back-end development of the game fell really far behind the front-end development, and so while we were waiting for the back end to catch up – being restless hacker types – we built this sort of instant messenger application in which you could form little communities and share objects. And we just added the ability to share photographs. So Flickr started off as a feature…Eventually, we had to put the game on hold and stop development on it because Flickr was really taking off.” -Caterina Fake, cofounder, Flickr

What do you think? What’s the most important personality trait of an entrepreneur?

Photo by Redvers

How to embed a YouTube video into your WordPress blog

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

This may seem like a beginner tip to many of you long-time WordPress bloggers, but the first time that I tried to embed a YouTube video into my WordPress blog, I couldn’t figure it out. (If you don’t want the back story, just skip to the end of this post for the how to.)

Here’s what I did. I am sure that many first-time video posters can relate. I went to YouTube, found the video that I wanted to include, pulled the code from the “embed” area, switched to “code” from “visual” mode in the WordPress editor, and pasted the code. This didn’t work. It displayed an empty box where the video should be, with the broken link x. Broken image

I then proceeded to search through the WordPress manual and help forums for about an hour and still had no luck. I finally found this site, which provided me with the answer.

HOW TO EMBED A YOUTUBE VIDEO INTO YOUR WORDPRESS BLOG:

  1. Click on the “Users” link in the Admin area of your WordPress blog.
  2. If you have multiple users, click “edit” next to your profile.
  3. Turn off the “Use the visual rich editor when writing” feature.
  4. Write your post. You’ll see that the options for “visual” and “code” are gone. You can now paste the YouTube embed code into the post and it will display perfectly.

One word of caution – you can’t switch back to using the visual rich editor after you paste the YouTube code or you’ll have the same problem. You need to publish your post before switching back to the visual editor.

Just for fun, here’s a video about blogging that I found thanks to Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog.