Thursday, October 29, 2009

Starting Your Own Business: It’s Not Like a Job

I have been pouring a great deal of energy and emotion this past year into establishing myself as a freelance consultant. Paul Graham’s blog posting on What Startups Are Really Like was very reassuring as it demonstrated that I am not alone and that the challenges I am facing are faced by every entrepreneur.

Graham says that startups take over your life and are an emotional rollercoaster. He also emphasizes that you have to be persistent and think long term. You have to view your startup idea as a hypothesis and be flexible as it may need to be changed. Luck is a big factor: success depends on skill, determination – and luck.

Graham says that people are often surprised by their freelance/startup experience because it’s not like a job. “Everyone's model of work is a job. It's completely pervasive. Even if you've never had a job, your parents probably did, along with practically every other adult you've met. Unconsciously, everyone expects a startup to be like a job, and that explains most of the surprises. It explains why people are surprised how carefully you have to choose cofounders and how hard you have to work to maintain your relationship. You don't have to do that with coworkers. It explains why the ups and downs are surprisingly extreme. In a job there is much more damping. But it also explains why the good times are surprisingly good: most people can't imagine such freedom.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Simplicity – an understanding of the complex

It can be difficult to find an appropriate balance between complexity and simplicity. We have so many, many choices when deciding how to live our lives. How do we determine what is important and what isn’t? Do we try to do and be everything, or do we set rigid limits on our activities?

The following statement by Tim Brown, author of Change by Design and CEO of Ideo, makes a lot of sense to me. He says that “minimalism has come to represent a style and as such is limited in its usefulness. It represents a reaction to complexity whereas simplicity relies on an understanding of the complex. This is an important difference. One is about the surface, about the stuff. The other is about our experience and requires a deep appreciation of how things work so as to make them just simple enough.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Freelance Work - Chaotic Liberation

I have reached an age where many of my friends are retired or preparing for retirement. Not me! Instead, I am pouring my energy into establishing myself as a freelance consultant.

One of the challenges has been defining my area of expertise and the type of work that I can do. I used to define myself as a Communications Specialist because I’m a really good writer. But I’ve been told that I’m selling myself short with that description as it fails to incorporate my analytical skills, my Master’s degree in Public Affairs, and my research and municipal government experience.

So, I’ve revamped my resume, and my website, and my business card to include Research, Evaluation, and Communication – Observe, Understand, Share.

When I’m tired, it’s chaotic and overwhelming. But it’s also liberating, and I’m excited about exploring future possibilities.

Visit my website – recommend me to your friends – hire me!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cranberry Flats

It was a grey, gusty day at Cranberry Flats (just south of Saskatoon) – but it felt so good to be outdoors in the fresh air.

cranberry flats oct09

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blue Ocean Strategic Planning

Blue Ocean Strategy

I have just finished reading Blue Ocean Strategy: How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and RenĂ©e Mauborgne. It’s an engaging account of the steps businesses or organizations can take to expand their market by identifying new market opportunities rather than simply engaging in business as usual.

For example, Cirque du Soleil took the concept of circuses to an entirely new level by introducing elements of music, dance and theatre. They didn’t compete with other circuses by being bigger or cheaper; they created a new form of entertainment.

Southwest Airlines recognized that their competition was not only other airlines; it was other forms of transportation. They transformed their business by focusing on providing “the speed of a plane at the price of a car – whenever you need it.”

Strategic Planning
I found the chapter on strategic planning to be particularly useful as I think most strategic plans are of little or no value. There is often a disconnect between the abstract plan and the concrete reality of day-to-day operations. And very few plans capture the essence of the organization or provide a clear road map for the future.

As Kim and Mauborgne state, “Few employees deep down in the company even know what the strategy is. And a closer look reveals that most plans don’t contain a strategy at all but rather a smorgasbord of tactics that individually make sense but collectively don’t add up to a unified, clear direction that sets a company apart – let alone makes the competition irrelevant.”

Blue Ocean Strategy outlines a very different approach to strategic planning. The authors recommend focusing on the big picture by developing a strategic canvas that charts the competitive advantages of your company and its competitors. For example, Westjet might give itself a higher rating for customer service while Air Canada might have a higher rate for the number of cities it services.

The chart provides an overview of how you rate compared to your competitors and whether you stand out from the crowd. The next step is to go out into the field and to find out from customers and non-customers what they think about your business. Organizations are often surprised to discover that factors they believe are extremely valuable are of little or no importance to their customers. So it’s important to identify what people actually want and value.

Based on this information, managers are asked to plot new strategies that will meet customer needs and values. Not simply more of the same or business as usual but instead charting a fresh, new course so you’re no longer competing with other companies. You’re in a class of your own.

It’s an ambitious approach to strategic planning, but I like the focus on creating a unified vision rather than a long list of individual projects and on going out into the field to find out what people actually think and want.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Make This Your Lucky Day

I am devoting a great deal of time at present to looking for new work opportunities. I know that I have great skills and a reputation for doing good work. But I am still very anxious – When will I get another contract? Will I ever be able to afford to travel abroad again? (Yeah, I’m a worrier!)

I was “lucky” enough to find an article on how people make their own luck and on how I can improve my chances of being “lucky.”

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, observed 400 people who described themselves as either lucky or unlucky. His research indicates that we can maximize our good fortune through three easy techniques:

"Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell - a reason to consider a decision carefully.

Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives. For example, one person described how he thought of a colour before arriving at a party and then introduced himself to people wearing that colour. This kind of behaviour boosts the likelihood of chance opportunities by introducing variety.

Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse. In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck."

My thanks to O’Reilly Radar for referring me to the article by Richard Wiseman in The Telegraph.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Andalucian Slide Show

I will be showing slides of my holiday in southern Spain on Friday, October 9 at 2 pm at the main downtown branch of the Saskatoon Public Library.

I am so happy to have this opportunity to share some of the sensual delights of Andalucia – houses and streets decked in flowers; perfumed gardens with dancing fountains; Roman mosaics; the ruined arches of the 10th century Moorish palace of Medina Azahara; the intricate stone lacework of the Alhambra Palaces; the Renaissance architecture of Baeza and Ubeda. Not to mention sunshine, outdoor restaurants, and olive trees.

I realize the slide show is during work hours, but I'd be delighted to see some familiar faces in the audience.