Tag Archives: Business Week

Pictures Proving Pictures Can’t Prove Anything

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this much eloquence in both words and pictures. It’s a great illustration of how a good picture is worth a thousand words, and then again, maybe also why it isn’t always.

That’s Correlation or Causation? on BusinessWeek.com. The words:

Need to prove something you already believe? All you need are two graphs and a leading question.

That’s concise verbal eloquence. Look at these two example pictures included (and click on the images here for four more examples, on the source at BusinessWeek.com)



(Images: from BusinessWeek.com)

Is Entrepreneurship Contagious?

Is entrepreneurship contagious? Think about it, and consider this: Obesity is contagious, so is quitting smoking, and so is divorce. Why not entrepreneurship?

Think of how people infect (or so it seems) each other with ideas, fashion, eating habits, and customs. Doing something, even something hard, is easier to do when it feels like a lot of other people are doing it.

And isn’t entrepreneurship a combination of ideas, fashion, customs, and like that? So if I start a business and make it, aren’t my friends more likely to do the same? They have a changed risk perception.

Is there strength in numbers? This is a good argument for Small Business Development Centers, SBA advocacy, Women’s Business Centers,S, and special programs offered by different federal and local agencies. And the local groups, like our own Smartups in Eugene OR, and hundreds like it, that promote startups with pub talks, pitch contests, and mentorship.

These are tough times. Unemployment continues, and general business confidence is way down. Every small startup that makes it helps.

Twitter is the Brush, Not the Painting

On one hand, twitter offers a positive change in business landscape, a brave new world of business possibilities, and you’re crazy to ignore it. On the other, it’s just a distraction, a shiny new thing, that gets in the way of the real business.

Can both hands be right? Yes.

The one hand: I spend hours every day now watching, playing, posting, and reading twitter.  That’s gotten me mentions in Business Week and The New York Times. I find myself speaking up for social media on public forums, spouting phrases like “changing business landscape” and “you’re crazy to ignore it” and “great new low-cost road to market” or “marketing tool.” Twitter is essential to my blogging. Its a window to what’s going on and who’s doing and saying what.  It’s great for my business.

The other hand: You can use it to send useless text clutter to nobody. You can use it to pretend you’re working when you’re just watching the world go by in cute sayings, headlines, and interesting pictures. It can be a total waste of business time.

The synthesis: Twitter is the brush, not the painting. It’s a tool for a new kind of self publishing with a different kind of reach. Talk of business benefits of Twitter are like talk of business benefits of the telephone, or of conversation, or of advertising. It’s all in how you use it. Who or what are you trying to be in Twitter, and what does that have to do with your identity, your message, your business, your self.

Tools enhance power. What matters is not the tool, but what you do with it.

(Image: enhanced from a photo by Victures/Shutterstock)

Good News, Bad News, And True Story on Blogging and Editors

The good news and bad news about blogging is editing and editors.

Good news: anybody can blog without going through an editor as a gatekeeper. Back in the old days we used to strive to “get published.” Now we just publish. Hooray, we’re free.

Bad news: nobody is so good that good professional editing doesn’t make them better. I consider myself a good writer and I’ve been doing it professionally for several decades. But everybody makes mistakes. Everybody who cares benefits from having somebody on their own side, reading, suggesting, commenting, and correcting. It’s just a fact of life. If you think you’re too good for editing, you’ve never had the pleasure of dealing with a good editor. Consider that an extra pair of watchful eyes.

True Story: By the time I was in my middle 20s I thought I was pretty hot stuff with journalism and writing. At that point I had honors degrees in Literature and Journalism. But I learned to write simple English (I hope) from the overnight editor at United Press International (“Berry, you write like a god-damned literature major“) named Norberto Swarzman. And I learned about structure (I hope) from a foreign editor at Business Week named Hugh Menzies, who rewrote every story into nine paragraphs with subheadings after the third and sixth paragraphs, and topic sentences for every paragraph.

And, while I’m on the subject, I have the luxury of editors for this blog, a team at Palo Alto Software, who catch errors and suggest changes.

Suggestion: If you’re out there on your own, with no editing whatsoever, maybe you could find a freelance editor as an ally. Think of innovative compensation, and maybe you can afford the help. I’m just suggesting, so don’t be offended.

Editing is a luxury, not a problem. Who wouldn’t like an extra pair of eyes?

Is Your Business Either Growing or Dying?

True story: there were six of us at lunch together on a beautiful late spring day in 1996. We sat on an outside table in the shade and discussed the next big growth spurt. Would we take this marketing-on-steroids proposal, at a high cost? Would it work? Could we afford not to?

I’m not sure any more which of us said it:

The status quo is great. This company is fun. The team works well together. Do we really have to grow?

I liked the idea, but didn’t fully buy it. My answer:

Yes. We’re a software company. We shrink or grow. There’s no alternative.

We did take the growth pill. Sales doubled in the following three years. Today, 14 years later, I still think that basic idea, growth or die, is true. Technologies change quickly. Trends and fashions change. Operating systems and the tools in software change. You don’t stop moving. Settle in, and you’re in trouble.

But is it that simple? I’m less certain than I used to be. And not just because of this recent piece, but still, I’m fascinated by Karen Klein’s Your Perception of Business Growth Is Wrong a few days ago on the businessweek.com site. She interviews Edward Hess, entrepreneur, author, and academic, who says, point blank:

What most business people think about growth, like “grow or die” or “growth is always good,” is not supported by research.

I do have to say that I am not as influenced by the “supported by research” phrase as I’m supposed to be. I’ve seen a lot of foolish notions supported by research. So I’m not that impressed by the results of a team of interviewers talking to CEOs of 54 companies, with average revenue of $60 million. Companies with revenues of $60 million are enormous to me. They have very little to do with the 95+% of businesses that have no employees, or just a few.

What does impress me, though, are the arguments Hess makes in the Business Week interview:

growth that’s not managed properly can lead to dilution of your customer value proposition and risks to your reputation and brand. I think you should approach growth not as an assumption but as a well-thought-out decision. Understand the difficulty involved and go into it with eyes wide open, knowing that you can stop at any time.

companies don’t necessarily have to grow or die, but they must improve or die, meaning they have to continuously improve their customer value proposition or risk going out of business.

if you take on too much growth, it can overwhelm your processes, people, and controls. What we recommend is managing the pace of growth with something like a gas-pedal approach.

Smaller, privately held companies usually don’t have the financial safety net to withstand quality control issues or negative publicity or a legal downside.

All of these arguments, taken from the interview, make sense to me. So I don’t know. What do you think: grow or die? Grow or shrink? Is it different in software, the web, and other high-tech businesses?

(Illustration: 3DProfi/Shutterstock)

Want to Write Well? Cut Mercilessly

Back in my distant past I had to learn to live with editing. I was in my twenties. It made me mad. Why change my stuff? But it also made my stuff better.

“Berry, you write like a God-damned literature major.” (Norberto Schwarzman)

So said the overnight editor at UPI back in 1972.  He did me a great favor. “Write for the reader,” he would say, way more often than I would have liked. 

By the late 70s I was writing for a Business Week editor (Hugh Menzies) who consistently cut the shreds out of my writing, and, dammit, every time he did he made it better. I sent my stories to him for about four years. And I learned that cutting was good.

I’ve been writing professionally for 30-some years now, and I’ve never written anything that wasn’t better after cutting. So I’ve come to love cutting.

If you want to read some really good advice about this, read Editing for Tighter Copy: How to Write with a Knife on Copyblogger yesterday. And if you want to write better, print it and paste it on your wall.