Thursday, March 13, 2008

Outsourcing Chutzpah

The article "Calling In The House Therapist" in The New York Times recommends hiring a coach to get through the remodeling process. Ms. Lund and Mr. Coccoluto selected an architect whom they felt was most qualified to renovate their 1820's colonial-style farmhouse; however, the architect wanted to place the garage doors at the back of the house which would cost more and make the backyard smaller and the homeowners preferred the garage doors on the side of the home.

The homeowners consulted with Bruce Irving, a remodeling coach who helps homeowners negotiate the challenges of renovation. He recommended they talk about their feelings with the architect so as to prevent ending up with a home that would make them feel uncomfortable.

They did so and expected her to grow angry but instead she quickly agreed with the change and redid the blueprints within ten days.

"Bruce gave us the chutzpah to tell our architect what we wanted," said Ms. Lund. "Sometimes you need someone to tell you that, because we're so used to internalizing our emotions. He's almost like having a house therapist."

Renovating a home can be a difficult and frustrating task so it's not surprising that coaches like Mr. Irving are proliferating. Remodeling coaches act more like marriage counselors than like building consultants, and, like therapists, they are best when brought in as early as possible.

They can help homeowners figure out what they want in a renovation and make sure the project is actually carried out properly. In the past only multi-million dollar jobs had project managers btu with the housing boom and growth in remodeling there is a new market of homeowners who know nothing about building and are searching for help. Some in the field estimate that there are about 100 such coaches around the country. Remodeling coaches help to reduce confusion and help homeowners make knowledgeable decisions.

Sometimes you need to outsource chutzpah to sufficiently convey your preferences to build not only a better house, but a stronger business. Have you heard from any of your customers lately?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Online Learning Pros and Cons

The Internet has made the online learning experience much like that in a real classroom. In the fall of 2006, 3.5 million students were taking online courses, up 10% from the previous year, according to Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit group that studies trends in online learning. Today, more than two-thirds of all higher education institutions offer online classes.

Professors and students have more flexibility learning online; however, there are disadvantages. Online professors are working just as hard as full time professors who meet with their students in person, but are being paid less. Many professors who do online learning are part timers, typically getting paid $1,000 to $1,500 to teach a course while a full time professor gets about ten times more than that, according to Professor Ruth at George Mason University. Spencer Anderson, an adjunct professor at North Lake College, says he was supposed to teach two traditional courses with about 12 students each but many students chose to take the online course, so he ended up teaching 40 students online and was only paid for one course, which has effected his income.

The biggest growth in online teaching has been at two-year colleges, and public colleges are at the forefront, according to the Sloan Consortium. The University of Phoenix has about 12,500 online faculty members. Online teaching gives teachers the opportunity of having a flexible schedule and supplemental income, while maximizing profits for the universities by decreasing expenses on salaries.

Building a stronger business is about scaling up, and there's a lot to be learned from the virtual education model.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Online Ads

In the New York Times article "Online Pitches Made Just For You", it describes techniques used by Alaska Airlines that many consumers are most likely unaware of. Alaska Airlines is introducing a system on the Internet to create unique ads for people as they cruise the web.

This is slightly different from direct mail or telemarketing because companies do not know the consumers name; instead, consumers are identified by their computers, using cookies.

Alaska Airlines uses a range of information to select the ads for each individual consumer surfing the web, including the person's geographic location, the number of times they have seen an Alaska Airlines ad, whether the person visited the company's website, the persons purchase history with the airline and their experience with lost bags, delays and flight cancellations.

Since Alaska Airlines is a small operation,it is important that its ads narrowly aim at people who might actually fly to the particular areas they service. The first phase of the new system even offers different flight prices to different people by analyzing how price sensitive certain consumers seem to be. Another data practice used at Alaska Airlines is called "re-targeting" which records who visits the web site and then turns that information over to the airline's ad delivery company. Next, when those people are elsewhere on the web, they are shown the ad. This means that people who visit Alaska Airlines' site receives ads that are different from those seen by people who have not.

Tracking individual actions and responding intelligently is a sure way to build a stronger business.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bringing Improvisation to the Workplace

According to Patricia Ryan Madson, author of Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up, an effective way to improve your business to take a fresh look at what and how you are doing in your business.

Learn to work with situations that used to be interpreted as mistakes in a new light. Improv consultants can help alter a work environment by creating novel situations and encouraging individuals to react in new ways. This addition of humor and decrease of the fear of making mistakes can help reduce tension in the workplace. Ms. Madson and other improv consultants, including a team out of Portland, OR, called On Your Feet (, are hoping to create "'a culture of 'yes.''" Developing a culture of yes can allow entrepreneurs to consider ideas that they previously may have discarded. Often "'happy mistakes'" can occur when one idea opens the door to another pathway of thinking.

Robert Poynton, a co-founder of On Your Feet said "'if anything, we know rather less about what is coming next, and how it will affect us, than our ancestors did,'" in "A Turtle and a Guitar Case: Improvisation and the Joys of Uncertainty." The On Your Feet site also refers to a "'cool mistake,'" something seemingly negative that has a positive outcome when interpreted in a different light.

As all business owners know, even the best made plans can fail. According to Ms. Madson, "improvisers avoid spinning their wheels because they see quickly what isn't working, or simultaneously, what might be successful that didn't occur to them at first. Improvisers, by definition, take risks and make mistakes, lots of them, but that's what leads them in fresh directions.'" Ms. Madson acknowledges that this change away from structured planning can be difficult; however, she suggests that this method can still help your business move forward.

Mike Kwatinetz, a venture capitalist who is co-founder and general partner at Azure Capital Partners in Palo Alto, embraces improvisational thinking as a way to get companies moving. This way you are reacting to what is happening around you and making appropriate changes and improvements.

Build a stronger business by letting go of the future.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Bill Gates Asks How to Encourage Tech Careers

Bill Gates, listed as a technologist/philanthropist, asks the 25 million plus members of the business networking site LinkedIn, "How can we do more to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?"

In less than 3 days, he's received close to 3,000 responses -- some very intriguing and well thought-0ut ideas have been posted.

When you build a stronger business, you cast a wide net and seek ideas from a diverse population.

Everyone Say 'Aye'

Did you ever notice that everyone is for free speech, as long as the speaker sounds like them?

When you build a stronger business (or any team/organization for that matter), you've got to be able to hear and even solicit input from different perspectives, and some of it is bound to be contrary from what you were expecting.

As you learn to incorporate and learn from that feedback, you will become a better leader and the organization will benefit from it.