Category Archives: Advice

How to Raise Successful Kids Without Overparenting

My video this week is somewhat like a compliment to my post yesterday, 5 tips on raising children as entrepreneurs. This is a TED talk from last November, Julie Lythcott-Haims: How to raise successful kids — without over-parenting. Here’s how TED summarizes:

With passion and wry humor, the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford makes the case for parents to stop defining their children’s success via grades and test scores. Instead, she says, they should focus on providing the oldest idea of all: unconditional love.

She’s very concerned in this talk with the other side of the coin – not neglectful, uncaring parenting, but parenting that focuses on visible trappings of kid success:

But at the other end of the spectrum, there’s a lot of harm going on there as well, where parents feel a kid can’t be successful unless the parent is protecting and preventing at every turn and hovering over every happening, and micromanaging every moment, and steering their kid towards some small subset of colleges and careers.

And this:

What I’m saying is, when we treat grades and scores and accolades and awards as the purpose … What I’m saying is, our kids need us to be a little less obsessed with grades and scores and a whole lot more interested in childhood providing a foundation for their success built on things like love and chores.

She has a lot to say about defining kids and childhood beyond the kind of achievements that lead to admission to the best college. She has a good argument for including chores in childhood. And a serious plea for unconditional love instead of conditional success.

All of which makes me pleased with my post yesterday, about raising kids to be entrepreneurs. I suggested in that post that you don’t push too hard, live your own life instead of theirs, and let them study what they want, not what you want. Among other things.

5 Tips for Raising Children as Entrepreneurs

Megan_with_boots_1989_ish-croppedI’m an entrepreneur, founder of Palo Alto Software. My wife and I are parents of five grown-up children, all involved with startups (Curious? check out Palo Alto Software, Rebelmouse, and HavePresence.) Does this just “happen” by osmosis, or did my wife and I do something specific to raising children as entrepreneurs? Was it a good idea? And would I recommend other people do the same thing?

First, I should admit, we really didn’t plan it that way. I fell into entrepreneurship not because I believed in it in principle, but rather because I wanted to do what interested me and earn enough money to support the family. That became a software business in the heart of the Silicon Valley during the first PC boom; I was an entrepreneur with a Stanford MBA degree. And we never thought about raising entrepreneurs, just healthy, well-educated, happy, productive people.

So what happened? Have I learned anything about this that might help you? I’ve talked to my wife about it, as a reality check. And here’s what we think we’ve discovered, five pieces of advice for you as a parent:

1. Let them study what they want, not what you want

My wife and I believe in education. Period. Note we don’t say “business education”; I know just as many entrepreneurs with liberal arts degrees as those with business or technical degrees. So don’t push your kids into courses that promise to be the “hot fields” where opportunity exists — unless they’re already interested in one of those fields. Even then, by the time they’re out of school, the business landscape will shift several times, and what’s “hot” now will almost certainly have cooled down by tomorrow. Let them immerse themselves in learning they enjoy, subjects that already hold their interest, and they’ll find the way to learn what they need to succeed.

Of course, this approach to school pertains to higher education, not Mrs. Johnson’s fourth-grade reading class (basics are still basics)! Furthermore, I strongly disagree with the idea that kids be encouraged to just slide through school simply because a selected few of the richest entrepreneurs out there were dropouts. A handful of true giants in business lack a lot of “conventional” education, true — but for every one of them, there are a few hundred thousand others who’ve stayed the course and have the degree. Life, not to mention work, is just simpler with an education.

We practiced what I’m preaching here. We encouraged our kids to study whatever they wanted to study; but we also encouraged them to get all the way to the degree, and to study hard. All of them have college degrees now, two of them have grad degrees, and none of them studied business or entrepreneurship. Liberal arts was fine with us (not surprising, I suppose, since I’m a liberal arts first guy who started a software company).

2. Reject gender stereotypes

If your daughter loves tech, math, and science, let her study as much of it as she can handle. If your son loves art, music, or philosophy, don’t wonder if his brain just isn’t “sharp enough” for the nitty-gritty of “real life.” Stereotyping in either direction is unacceptable; don’t do it, and don’t accept it from others.

3. Don’t push

Resist the temptation to program your kids to enter any specific occupation, and especially don’t pressure them with expectations of following in your footsteps. If you invest the time and energy to encourage your kids in terms of being educated, don’t nullify all that effort by trying to shoehorn them into your own picture of what they should grow up to be. They’re supposed to do what they want, remember? Not what you want. Or are we still in the 19th century — when it didn’t work that well, either?

Doubt this? Try this trivia question: name a major movie in which a central character was supposed to go into his or her parents’ business but didn’t. Answer: tons, because this is more than a cliché: it’s an archetype. Kids have been doing this for thousands of years: witness Abraham trashing his dad’s store in the Bible! Come to think about it…Jesus didn’t end up a carpenter, either. In The Godfather, Don Corleone wanted Michael to be a senator, not the next don. And for a more recent example, take Hiro in Heroes.

Sure, it’s okay to hope they’ll want to get involved. It’s okay to dream. It’s okay to make some tentative plans to hand things off when the time comes. Maybe they will love what you do and want to do it, too. But freedom to choose is essential. Working in the business has to be their choice, not yours.

4. Trash the rose-colored glasses

I understand the strong thread in our culture of protecting kids, no matter what their age, from feeling anything but happy, positive, and enthusiastic about themselves all the time. It wants to eliminate the notion of “competition,” of winners or losers, or of failing. You’ll hear it in platitudes like “you’re all winners here!” And I coached kids’ soccer, so I went through the exercise of getting trophies for all and coming up with an award for every kid. And we were helicopter parents too, especially with our younger ones, hopping on a plane to console a daughter with a twisted knee.

Is that bad? I’m not sure.

So we didn’t harp on the cruel hard world. But every kid knows from a very early age who really won the race, no matter how many ribbons the grownups hand out — but that doesn’t mean kids need to learn to constantly hedge their bets, either. We didn’t coddle our kids or lead them to believe any false promises. Lemons happen, but lemonade isn’t always realistic, and they learned that. And some of the best ideas entrepreneurs ever get come from trying one thing, and then another, and then a third, until one “clicks” and they take off.

In our case, I’m not saying we were wise, or smart; maybe just lucky; and maybe even chronically broke, during all those years we were struggling with Palo Alto Software before it finally took off. Even if we might have wanted to wrap cocoons around our kids and buffer them from disappointment, trying, and struggle, it’s hard to actually do that when you’re bootstrapping a startup. All of our kids had to do their own homework and buckle down on occasion to do the hard things that came up.

5. Live your life, not theirs

Be an accidental, unintentional, role model. Let them see you enjoy your work when you do; and don’t pretend when you don’t. Show them where the money comes from, how your business works, how you grow it and adapt it. Let them participate in some of the details. Let them see you (and your spouse, if your spouse is so inclined) working the business goals, having realistic expectations, and dealing with setbacks. Let them see you as you are with what you do — and know it’s not the end of the world when things go wrong. From this, they’ll absorb something better than false “self-esteem”: they’ll know that it’s okay to try new things, it’s okay to experiment, and it’s okay if they don’t hit ultimate “pay dirt” the first time. They’ll still survive, and so will their parents!

People don’t always find their best place right away. Sometimes it takes one or two (or a dozen) false starts on the way to hitting one’s stride and finding the perfect fit. So don’t push your kids into corners. Let them work where they want, with whom they want, on what they want; let them learn by doing, and even learn by failing.

Entrepreneurism isn’t all there is to life, but it’s a great way to work…and live. Bottom line? In the best of all possible worlds, you’ll end up with well-educated, hardworking people who know where your business came from, and why, and have a good understanding of that when they figure out where they want their lives to go. And they’ll have what they need to go there.

(image: copyright Timothy J. Berry, 1989. Not for reproduction. This is our youngest, Megan Berry, now VP Product at Rebelmouse. Filling her dad’s shoes.)

(Ed note: does this seem familiar? I published it first on LinkedIn, then on Medium. I apologize for repetition. It came up in conversation and I wanted to bring it into the fold here, on this, my main blog.)

 

The Natural Intersection of Entrepreneurship and Meaning

Thanks for Why should you build your business around happiness? over at typeform.com for the fascinating image featured here, about the intersection of entrepreneurship and meaning. It comes from an interview with Laurence McCahill of The Happy Startup School.

Venn Diagram Entrepreneurship and Meaning

Normal people care about meaning

This matches my belief that making meaning or changing the world or having a reason why matters to people. And it matters to startups. And investors too. I can’t offer any sort of rigorous data to prove it. But my experience tells me that normal humans care about right and wrong, not doing harm, and spending their time on something that makes the world around them better. Do you agree?

The post I took this from cites research showing

“Workers with a Purpose-Orientation are the most valuable and highest potential segment of the workforce regardless of industry or role. On every measure, Purpose-Oriented Workers have better outcomes than their peers.”That means:

  • 20% longer expected tenure

  • 50% more likely to be in leadership positions

  • 47% more likely to be promoters of their employers

  • 64% higher levels of fulfillment in their work

That strikes me as completely credible. And it matches my experience. I posted along those lines on this blog with Build a Mission, among others.

Startups Make Meaning

I’ve seen this factor come up often in startup pitches to angel investors. Investors naturally give more weight to a proposed startup that does something the world needs doing. Founders are more credible, and more likable, when they grow the business from roots in entrepreneurship and meaning.

 

I see this same idea recurring in a lot of different places. One that comes to mind immediately is Guy Kawasaki’s use of “Make Meaning” as a driver of business ideas in his book The Art of The Start.

I also like to remind entrepreneurs – just as this image does – that success is not simply a matter of doing what you love and following your passion. It is also doing what other people need, want, and will pay for.

 

Do You Suffer from Distraction Sickness

Does this seem familiar to you: Distraction Sickness

I had sensed a personal crash coming. For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours.

Andrew Sullivan

That’s from Andrew Sullivan: My Distraction Sickness — and Yours, in New York Magazine this week. I recognized the author’s name immediately because I’ve seen Sullivan on talk shows often. On TV he comes off as thoughtful and articulate, and he’s frequently introduced as a gay republican and prolific blogger. Here’s the first paragraph of his Wikipedia biography:

Andrew Michael Sullivan (born 10 August 1963) is an English author, editor, and blogger. Sullivan is a conservative political commentator, a former editor of The New Republic, and the author or editor of six books. He was a pioneer of the political blog, starting his in 2000. He eventually moved his blog to various publishing platforms, including Time, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, and finally an independent subscription-based format. He announced his retirement from blogging in 2015.

The independent blog mentioned is The Dish, where the last post is dated June of 2015.

But that’s just background information. What’s notable about his background, in this context, is the sudden change, the lack of Andrew Sullivan writing and talking on TV in the last year. I read this piece and discovered why. And decided that what he’s calling distraction sickness might be an epidemic.

Distraction sickness

Sullivan describes a process that seemed alarmingly familiar to me – and, I bet, to you too:

Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating.

Is that not you? Ok. Nobody you know? C’mon, tell the truth.

He continued:

I tried reading books, but that skill now began to elude me. After a couple of pages, my fingers twitched for a keyboard. I tried meditation, but my mind bucked and bridled as I tried to still it. I got a steady workout routine, and it gave me the only relief I could measure for an hour or so a day. But over time in this pervasive virtual world, the online clamor grew louder and louder. Although I spent hours each day, alone and silent, attached to a laptop, it felt as if I were in a constant cacophonous crowd of words and images, sounds and ideas, emotions and tirades — a wind tunnel of deafening, deadening noise. So much of it was irresistible, as I fully understood. So much of the technology was irreversible, as I also knew. But I’d begun to fear that this new way of living was actually becoming a way of not-living.

Is this you?

I’m not attempting to duplicate Sullivan’s whole article here. I highly recommend you read it yourself and think about it. But here’s one more piece of it I want to add:

Our oldest human skills atrophy. GPS, for example, is a godsend for finding our way around places we don’t know. But, as Nicholas Carr has noted, it has led to our not even seeing, let alone remembering, the details of our environment, to our not developing the accumulated memories that give us a sense of place and control over what we once called ordinary life. The writer Matthew Crawford has examined how automation and online living have sharply eroded the number of people physically making things, using their own hands and eyes and bodies to craft, say, a wooden chair or a piece of clothing or, in one of Crawford’s more engrossing case studies, a pipe organ.

It certainly made me think about my level of the disease. For a split second. Before diving back into blogging.

 

 

Does an MBA Help in Running a High-Tech Business?

Question (on Quora): Does an MBA help in starting up and running a technology-based business? 

My Answer on MBA for High Tech

I have an MBA degree and I bootstrapped a software company past $10M annual sales and was a co-founder of another software company that went public in less than four years. And the truth is neither yes or no, but somewhere in between. The value of the MBA depends on who you are, what you want, what other options you have, what you give up, and where you are in career and the more important rest of your life, like relationships, having children, etc.

MBA degree for high tech business

My case with my MBA and high tech

My MBA degree made a huge difference to me as entrepreneur. I would never have managed without the general business knowledge I got in business school. Having a good basic idea of finance, marketing, product development, and organizational admin was essential to me. It changed my risk factors from too high to acceptable. I set out to build my business on my own without any savings or any investors and while being the sole income for my family (at that point we had 4 kids). Knowledge, in my case, reduced risk. So that’s a direct link to this question of whether having an MBA helps. I’m just one data point, but still … my experience is real.

For the record, my MBA wasn’t easy. It was a lot of sacrifice and a lot of risk. I did it at Stanford while married with 3 kids and paying my own way by consulting, supporting my family, without scholarship help. I quit a good job to do it, turned down a transfer from Mexico City to Hong Kong, which I had wanted for years. And I’m very grateful to my wife, who encouraged me to do it, and promised me she’d stick with me even if I failed.

Two important qualifiers

One important factor for me, which might be relevant for others, is that my MBA experience was rooted in the objective of changing careers. I wanted to change directions, not continue in the direction I’d been going. I’d been a business journalist and I wanted to move out of Journalism to business. I didn’t want to write about it; I wanted to do it.

Another factor for me that might help others is I didn’t expect magic. I was already 31 years old, married 9 years, father of 3. I didn’t expect to learn leadership, when and how to take risks, or how to deal with people (i.e. empathy) in a classroom. What I did expect to learn was the intricacies of finance and cash management, accounting, marketing, some sales (ugh – I’ve always hated sales), some product development, decision sciences, and basic analysis.

However, please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying that the MBA is good for every entrepreneur or any specific entrepreneur or you, specifically, as you read this answer. I am saying that it was extremely good for me, in my case, and might be as well for somebody else in similar circumstances. Can you afford to do it? Do you have the time? Are you in a position to take advantage of it? Are you already full speed in a career you love or looking to pivot? All of these factors are important.

Three additional thoughts

  1. There’s no doubt that times have changed, and that the relative value of an MBA degree in 1981 is less than it is now. MBAs are much more common these days than they were then and it doesn’t take an MBA degree to understand supply and demand.
  2. MBAs need ripening before they get their full value. Some would say that it would be a good investment to buy fresh new recent MBAs for what they’re worth and sell them for what they think they’re worth. I’ve been an employer for 30+ years now and I like my MBAs much better when it’s their second or third job out of school, or a few years after school.
  3. I believe the MBA degree these days is a lot more valuable from one of the top schools – Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Northwestern, Babson (for entrepreneurs) and the like – than from second or third tier. The supply and demand factor has heightened the perceived difference.

Business for Life not Life for Business

Office clutterWe talk about work-life balance, in general terms, but here’s one simple thought that should always be there in the background:

Your business exists to make your life better. Not vice-versa. Don’t sacrifice your life to make your business better.

I got a lot of play on Twitter recently with this simple idea. And this post is largely based on one I did two a few years ago. But this bears repeating. Of course it’s obvious, But people forget. We business owners forget way too often.

The “have-to-do” factor is infinite

Do you use what you “have to do” for your business as the constant recurring excuse for missing things that matter to people you love – soccer games, recitals, appointments, and so on? I’m sure you’ve heard the oft-repeated saying about people on their death beds not wishing they’d spent more time in the office.

I think the “have to do” factor for entrepreneurs, startups, and small business owners is essentially infinite. If you are one of us, then you can – if you want – always find a “good” business reason to not do anything but the business for the rest of your life, non stop, without anything else.

But real life is more important

Specifically, my advice (from a post I did here in 2012):

Don’t use business as an excuse for selfishness and obsession. I’ve lived through this. There is an overpowering temptation to push everything else aside and dive into the business. Everybody who wants you to do anything else is annoying, and “Don’t they realize you’re building a business?” You miss dinner, the kids’ games and teachers’ conferences, everything that matters to anybody else in your life.

So you have to draw lines and set priorities. As I was building my business my wife insisted I be home for family dinner every night I wasn’t traveling. I objected at times, but looking back, with the kids all grown up. I’m so glad. And she set vacations and paid deposits months in advance, so we had them. I’m glad for that too. I posted about that here on this blog, several years ago in True Story: Relationship vs. New Business.

You know this. But so did I, and I would have really screwed this up without reminders. So this is your reminder. Life is more important than business. And the right work-life balance isn’t 95% your business and 5% the rest of your life.

(image: shutterstock.com)

Future Shock Top 10 Backwards Look

Telephone Circa 1970Ah yes, the good old days. How quickly time passes. And I can’t help occasionally browsing through technology looking back. My youngest daughter is in her late twenties now. She can barely remember life before cellphones, and can’t remember life before personal computers or VCRs, because both of those were born before she was. I was talking a grandkid the other day, and she couldn’t conceive of a world before amazon.com.

Every so often I get reminded how far we’ve come. When I graduated from college in 1970:

  1. The university had a computer in a basement that took up the space of an SUV and had way less power than an iPhone does now. Computer science students programmed it with perforated cards.
  2. The dorms had one phone per floor. Long distance calling costs were significant. I was in the Midwest, so I’d call my parents in California once every couple of months.
  3. We wrote letters. We read letters.
  4. We used typewriters for every college essay, paper, and assignment. We’d often retype an entire page to correct an error. Sometimes we’d reword things to make the pages end or begin with the correct word so we could insert an additional page.
  5. Four-function calculators existed, but nobody we knew had one. You could have bought a new low-end car for the price of two four-function calculators.
  6. I did my sophomore year abroad, and the university sent us from New York to Europe on an ocean liner. That was cheaper than flying.
  7. We wrote checks when we had to, used cash most of the time, and we got the cash from the bank teller window, not an ATM.
  8. Credit cards were rare. Our parents had them.
  9. Television was broadcast over the air. We watched in real time or not at all. We had 5 or 10 channels to choose from.
  10. When we were driving we listened to the hits on AM radio mostly, or cassette tapes when we could.

And that’s just technology, or a smattering of technology.  When I think of social evolution, and environmental deterioration, the end of the cold war, the rise of terrorism, polar ice caps … like we used to say: “far out, man.”

Build Yourself a Compatible Goals Filter

Suggestion: on any kind of business relationship, take a step back, open your eyes, and look for compatible goals.

For example, one variety of hell is a startup with founders and investors having different goals. Differences on how to achieve goals are hard enough. You can talk out those differences. But when investors want one thing, and founders something else entirely, there’s trouble brewing. Companies can aim for growth, profits, or cash flow independence. Everybody involved should agree.

Use the framework of compatible goals to look at small business team members and compensation. That can be as simple as targets for gross margin (price less direct cost) instead of just sales. Years ago I hired an honest, ambitious, hard-working salesman with a compensation package tied to sales. He hit the sales targets by pricing deals so close to below cost that we didn’t have enough money to cover overhead. That was my fault, not his.

Use creative compensation schemes and bonuses. How can you make the goals of the customer service people compatible with the overall company goals? What do you do about targets, metrics, and bonuses? What about product development, as in programming? Editing? The more thought to compatible goals, the more likely to succeed.

You should also use the framework of compatible goals to look at business alliances. Do you want the same thing as those people from the other company? Can you both find a win? Are your goals for this deal compatible with theirs? Asking deeper questions about goals can lead to better, more useful negotiations.

Reflections on MBA experience

Gilded GraduationThe prestige of the MBA degree is tarnished quite a bit since I got mine in the early 1980s. And that’s for pretty good reasons. With the world of startups like it is, and the progress of high tech, there are some good arguments against stopping a career for two years to go back to school. Still, my two years with the MBA were the right thing for me, for my family, and for my entrepreneurship. Everything is case by case.

So I find myself reflecting on my own MBA experience, and MBAs as a stereotype, and what the MBA degree might or might not mean today. The following thoughts come in no particular order.

  1. The curriculum used to be a lot more about business analysis than about doing business. Things have changed for the better though, because now entrepreneurship is all over the MBA world now, and MBAs are much better off for it. When I was at Stanford University the entire “small business” curriculum was one course — an excellent course, but still, just one — taught by Steve Brandt.
  2. I screwed up the recruiting process myself and chose the wrong job for the wrong reasons. That story is in this blog as a stupid mistake. I was hardly the only one. I saw somewhere that 80% of the MBAs of my time changed jobs in less than a year after graduating.
  3. The two years I spent studying business were among the best of my adult life. My wife and I and our three kids moved from a fifth-floor apartment in Mexico City to a townhouse on campus at Stanford, for half the rent. I enjoyed the classes immensely.  Our kids had great elementary school on campus. We needed only one car.
  4. I had a friend a few years older than myself who already had the MBA degree when I met him, before I had thought of it. He always said “it’s just a union card. You get it so they pay you more.”
  5. After the first quarter as a full-time student I couldn’t take the pressure of the bank account going one way only, withdrawals and no deposits. So I worked as a market research consultant with Creative Strategies for the rest of my time studying. I made a  full-time consulting income, but  because I was a an early adapter of technology and I did most of my work at home, it was still a good time for family.
  6. By the end of the two years, some of my classmates were disappointed that they had been taught business analysis more than business. I wasn’t disappointed at all, I had learned what I went there to learn. I expected them to teach me stuff that lent itself to chalkboards and lectures and readings and they did.
  7. I wasn’t the typical MBA student. I was 31, married, had three children, and had supported my family for years as a business journalist in Mexico, making more money freelance than on salary. I figured that whether I knew how to deal with people or not, they weren’t going to teach me that; they were going to teach me what I wanted to learn, the analysis.
  8. Getting there was hard for us. It involved quitting a fairly good job in Mexico City and moving back to the United States without a job. I had just won a long-sought-after transfer to Hong Kong, which I had to turn down. That was a hard choice. I’ve never regretted it.
  9. It was expensive. I paid my own way.
  10. Samuel Johnson said that the ultimate happiness is anticipation of happiness rather than realization. During those two years studying, family life was close to idyllic for us so the present was really good, and the grapevine kept telling us that the future would be much better.
  11. It was a lot of work, but it was good clean work, and it made sense.
  12. I’ve dealt with some young people fresh out of business school with shiny new MBA degrees who were full of themselves, ignorant and arrogant. I’ve dealt with some who weren’t. Generalizations suck. Still, generally you want an MBA 10 years later, not in his or her first job out.
  13. I hated the group projects. I had a family to go back home to, and consulting work to do, and group projects had too many people who liked the social aspect of group meetings too much. I usually tried to negotiate a chunk of the project we could separate from the rest so that I could do my part on my own, without going to meetings.
  14. I had been doing business-journalist work for several publications, of which the most well known was Business Week (as McGraw-Hill World News correspondent for Mexico). I was amused sometimes that some of what I did after the MBA was very similar to what I’d done before the MBA, but for much more money.
  15. MBA studies are best for people who’ve had significant work experience first. I don’t know if that’s three years, or five, or seven, or what. I had been out of school eight years when I started.
  16. What’s with the people who put the letters onto their business cards and behind their names on websites, like they were CPAs or doctors or something? Isn’t that awkward? I always think if it isn’t MD or PhD or maybe CPA (for commercial reasons) then it makes me nervous to see it there. Is that just me or what?
  17. Final thought about MBAs: I deal today with a collection of very smart people between the ages of 30 and 40 who have picked up so much business savvy in 10 or more years of high-tech business that I don’t think they should go back to school and get an MBA degree. I do wish there were a test somewhere, like the GED for high school, so these people could take the test and get the [expletive deleted] MBA seal of approval they deserve.

So how to conclude? It’s up to you, and your situation, whether it’s right for you. And, at the very least, don’t hold the MBA against those who have one.

Tools, Productivity, And Bright Shiny Distractions

Is this you?  Over and over again, you fall off on regular consistent organizational practices like to-do lists, emails, planning, backing up your computer … then you run across some cool new productivity tool. You jump on the bandwagon enthusiastically, promising yourself that you’re finally going to get organized and stay organized. You spend happy hours reorganizing everything to fit the new tool. Then, over time, as the novelty wears off, you end up right back where you started, with the same problems. Cool productivity tools, no productivity.

And then you find a new cool tool and run the same cycle over again.

This is me and productivity tools

I will tell you that this is definitely me. I’ve done this all my life. I veer off to a new organization system like a dumb fish following a shiny new lure in the water. And I see other people doing it too, all the time, all around me. You don’t need a new spreadsheet, or to-do list software, or project planning system; you need to use what you have regularly.

I end up wasting the time it takes to reorganize to the mindset of the cool new tool, repeatedly, instead of managing to follow up on any one thing consistently over a long time.

And what works in the real world is not the tool, not any of the damn tools, but rather the following up. It’s the human behavior that matters, the good habits, consistently applying methods, not getting bored with it, not rationalizing out of it.

I apologize for mixing metaphors with this, but I can’t resist referring to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” Given the world we live in, computers and the Web, it’s something like: “tools, tools everywhere, and not a drop of productivity.”

Or so it seems.

Now, the question: what are we going to do about it?