Category Archives: Fun

Support Theatre

Support theatre provides the appearance of supporting customers when in fact it is just treating customers poorly based on a management system that disrespects customers. It is a similar idea to security theatre that has become so popular for government in the USA for the last 10 years.

Dilbert does a good job of illustrating “support theatre” in this webcast:

I have had the exact experience Dilbert does of tech support refusing to think about the actual symptoms of the problem and insisting on following some script and wasting my time – repeatedly. This is not some accident. Management has designed systems with the attitude that customer’s time doesn’t matter.

Companies that practices support theatre are usually very focused on cutting the company’s cost and not “wasting” the companies time fixing the problems they create for customers or even helping customers put on “band-aids” to cope with the injuries the company has inflicted on the customer. Those companies also don’t learn from their failures to improve and stop future customers from suffering the consequences of their poor processes.

It is painful to interact with such companies. I find that most large companies I am forced to interact with are deeply into support theatre and only very superficially concerned with customers. It is a shame that the type of customer focus that those interested in management improvement have been advocating for decades is ignored by so many companies today.

If you care about your customers and want to build an organization that prospers by delighting customers go to the customer (user) gemba. Focus on how to improve the customer experience. You likely will have many easy opportunities to improve how things operate since the experience for customers today is often so bad.

Related: Making Life Difficult for CustomersPracticing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at AppleCustomer Service is Important (2006)Simple Customer Care Strategy: CommunicateUse Urls, Don’t Use Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z InstructionsHow to protect yourself from your credit card companyVerizon Provides Lousy Service = Dog Bites Man (2008)Is Poor Service the Industry Standard? (2006)Incredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card

Your Brain Can Jump to Incorrect Conclusions

How our brain works without us realizing it often is hugely beneficial, but it also creates some faulty conclusions at times. The video gives a good synopsis of the quick intuitive leaps our brains make all the time. These are extremely helpful, but occasionally lead us to fall into traps.

I have discussed these idea before: The Illusion of Knowledge, Optical and Other Illusions. By understanding some of the traps our brain can fall into, we can improve our decision making.

By learning that our “system 1 brain” will jump to immediate answers but may make some risky assumptions in seeking the quickest answer we can learn to question that conclusion. I find building the case for that conclusion (and questioning the assumptions) is helpful.

The trickiest part is figuring out when to apply more conscious effort to exploring the options. I do not believe the quip “don’t assume” is useful. We have to make hundred of assumptions every day or we couldn’t make any progress. If I don’t assume the floor will support my weight I have to be very careful getting out of bed, then the stairway, then whether food is safe to eat, whether the brakes still work on my car…

We have to assume. But it is helpful if we can intelligently question our immediate conclusions if it is important to do so. Optical illusion are interesting, most often the mistakes our brain makes are not important to us. But if such a conclusion was important, knowing to question your system 1 response will give you the chance to improve.

Related: We are Being Ruined by the Best Efforts of People Who are Doing the Wrong ThingHow We Know What We KnowFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed Management DecisionsAlbert Einstein, Marylin Monroe Hybrid Image

Ackoff: Corporations Are Not Led By Those Seeking to Maximize Shareholder Value

If I had to limit myself to a handful of management experts, Russel Ackoff would definitely be in that group. Thankfully there is no such limit. Ackoff once again provides great insight with great wit in the above clip.

A corporation says that its principle value is maximizing shareholder value. That’s non-sense. If that were the case executives wouldn’t fly around on private jets and have Philippine mahogany lined offices and the rest of it. The principle function to those executives is to provide those executives with the quality of work life that they like. And profit is merely a means which guarantees their ability to do it.

If we are going to talk about values, we got to talk about what the values are in action, not in proclamation.

Related: Ackoff, Idealized Design and Bell LabsDr. Russell Ackoff Webcast on Systems ThinkingA Theory of a System for Educators and ManagersCEOs Plundering Corporate Coffers

You’ve Got to Find What You Love

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

– Steve Jobs

Watch this great commencement speech by Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005.

We lost a great person today, when Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. His words are just as important today: you have got to find what you love to do. Keep looking until you find it. It won’t necessarily be easy to do. But life is too short to waste merely getting by.

My father found what he loved and pursued that throughout his life. He also died young. They both died young, but they both had great lives because they took charge to make the most of their lives. By doing what they loved they made the world a better place for many others, and themselves. Take that message to heart and make your life the best it can be.

Related: Quotes from Steve JobsPeter ScholtesPositivity and Joy in WorkBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation FlourishesRemembering Bill Hunter

Technical Non-Support

A bit of fun from Dilbert. I have had the exact experience Dilbert does of tech support refusing to think about the actual symptoms of the problem and insisting on following some script and wasting my time – repeatedly. The second act takes on another time waster with a management tip from Dogbert: “Always postpone meetings with time wasting morons.” Dogbert hasn’t quite adopted the respect for people principle.

via: The final word on making meetings better

Related: Dilbert and DemingFinancial Planning Made EasyCEOs Plundering Corporate Coffersposts on meetings

Kiva – Giving Entrepreneurs an Opportunity to Succeed

photo of a Kiva entrepreneur

Tony, a Kiva entrepreneur in Pennsylvania, USA looking to manufacturing specialty cars.

I really like Kiva. Kiva lets you lend small amounts of money to entrepreneurs around the world. My latest loan is to a manufacturing entrepreneur in the USA.

When Tony’s 6’0 6″ body could not fit in the traditional supercars, he built his own in 1990. Tony says, “If one door closes I just look for another opening; I don’t give up.” With much patience and hard work he continues to expand his business and hopes to make it a full-time job. With his ACCION USA microloan he has hired two designers to work with him part-time and has purchased a laptop.

I must admit I wouldn’t take this as an investment. It seems a very risky and doesn’t seem that likely to pan out, to me. But I see my loans through Kiva as a way to give people a chance to pursue their dreams. This loans is probably the one I find less compelling from a business point of view (to me), but I like to provide some loans in the USA so I decided to give Tony a chance.

I do try to select loans that look promising and seem to provide the entrepreneur an opportunity that will help them. By which I mean I love finding loans where, for example, they will buy equipment that will improve their productivity or take on new business. Very often loans are to buy raw materials or supplies, which is also fine but the potential gains are often less than something that improves the efficiency (it seems to me). Often this allows the entrepreneur to buy more and grow their business.

I have made nearly 200 loans now. The top country has been Togo (at 12%). I don’t target Togo but I do pay attention to the loan costs to the entrepreneurs (part of my assessment of the good business case for the loan) and some of the micro finance organizations offer good terms to entrepreneurs. Some of the microfinance organizations are more charitable (they may use donations to fund significant parts of the operating expenses, instead of profits from interest on the loans). Read more details on how Kiva works. It also used to be a bit difficult to find loans I really thought were great. It is getting easier to find more options so my guess is that the top few countries now will see declines in their percentages.

So far I have lent to 37 countries. Cambodia is 2nd at 7.7% of my loans, Viet Nam 3rd at 6.7%, Tanzania 4th at 5.1%, Nicaragua 6th at 5.1% along with Kenya, and Ghana and Boliva are 8th at 4.6%. The United States now makes up 2.6% and Mexico 1.5%. The sectors the loans are categorized in are: Services 25%, Food 18%, Manufacturing 17%, Retail 14%, Agriculture 12% and various others. Though the sector categorizations are pretty weak in my opinion (they seem to be fairly inaccurate – so it gives you an idea but it isn’t exact).

The default rate on my loan portfolio is 2.1% (3 defaults). One was in Kenya where $71.50 out of $75 was paid back and then huge civil unrest took place and it defaulted. The other 2 are from the same microfinance bank in Ecuador that was closed down due to mismanagement. In that instance I lost $87.50 out of $100 lent. 94 loans have been fully paid back and 94 are being paid back now.

I would love it if more Curious Cat readers joined Kiva and helped other entrepreneurs. If you do let me know your Kiva page and I will add you to the Curious Cat Kivans page. Also join the Curious Cats Kiva Lending Team.

Related: 100th Entrepreneur LoanThanksgiving: Micro-financing EntrepreneursUsing Capitalism to Make the World BetterKiva Opens to USA Entrepreneur LoansMicroFinance Currency Risk

Worker Retention at Zappos

Tony Hsieh, chief executive of Zappos, spoke at a recent y-combinator event (two great organizations we have mentioned before).

Facebook and Zappos’s Different Views on Worker Retention

“We actually want our employees stay with the company for a long time, for 10 years, maybe their entire life.”

“We now provide mentorship and training so employees can join at the entry level and, over a period of five to seven years, have the opportunity and training to become senior leaders in the company,” he said. “Constant growth is what will keep them in the company for a very long time.”

Hsieh said he wants Zappos to have a higher purpose than just driving profits and that if employees buy into it, it is easier to have great customer service and for employees to want to stay at the company. He’s outlined that in core values that the company uses to guide itself.

“For your employees, if you can inspire them through your vision, that’s not just about profits or being number one in the market,” Hsieh said. “I like to say the best businesses are the ones that figure out how to combine profits, passion and purpose and the vision and culture to do that.”

Great stuff. I must admit I would not find spending $700 million on an internet shoe and apparel retailer was a great idea for Amazon if it were not Zappos. I am happy to own a small portion of Zappos with such inspired leadership. The contrast in the respect for people Hsieh shows and so many other unethical CEO’s is amazing and inspiring. We need more such leadership examples to follow.

Related: Paying New Employees to QuitZappos and Amazon Sitting in a Tree…People are Our Most Important AssetBuilding a Great Workforce

Zappos and Amazon Sitting in a Tree…

Amazon is acquiring the unique company – Zappos: we have written about Zappos previously: Paying New Employees to Quit. Jeff Bezos uses the webcast above to talk to the employees of Zappos. Excellent job. The letter from Tony Hsieh, the Zappo’s CEO, to employees is fantastic. This is a CEO that respects employees. These are leaders I would follow and invest in (and in fact I am glad I do own Amazon stock).

First, I want to apologize for the suddenness of this announcement. As you know, one of our core values is to Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication, and if I could have it my way, I would have shared much earlier that we were in discussions with Amazon so that all employees could be involved in the decision process that we went through along the way. Unfortunately, because Amazon is a public company, there are securities laws that prevented us from talking about this to most of our employees until today.

Several months ago, they reached out to us and said they wanted to join forces with us so that we could accelerate the growth of our business, our brand, and our culture. When they said they wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand (as opposed to folding us into Amazon), we decided it was worth exploring what a partnership would look like.

We learned that they truly wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand and continue to build the Zappos culture in our own unique way. I think “unique” was their way of saying “fun and a little weird.” 🙂

Over the past several months, as we got to know each other better, both sides became more and more excited about the possibilities for leveraging each other’s strengths. We realized that we are both very customer-focused companies — we just focus on different ways of making our customers happy.

Amazon focuses on low prices, vast selection and convenience to make their customers happy, while Zappos does it through developing relationships, creating personal emotional connections, and delivering high touch (“WOW”) customer service.

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Helping Employees Improve

One aspect of managing people is to provide positive feedback and show appreciation. Doing so is important. People benefit from encouragement and reinforcement. In addition to just telling them, take action to show your appreciation.

The Dilbert workplace is alive and well. And even in above average management systems there is plenty of resistance faced by those looking to improve systems. For those employees that are making the attempt to improve the organization go beyond saying thanks: actually demonstrate your appreciation. Do what you can to help them achieve.

A manager should be enabling their employees to perform. That means taking positive steps that help them perform. This is even more appreciated than saying thanks. And has the added benefit of helping the organization by helping along their good idea. It is win, win, win. They win, you win and the organization wins.

Thoughts on: Rewards and Recognition

Related: Keeping Good EmployeesRespect for People Requires Understanding PsychologyPeople are Our Most Important AssetMotivationIncentive Programs are Ineffective

Dr. Deming’s 15th Point

Guest post from John McConnell, Wysowl Pty Ltd

Dr. Deming opened his first Australian seminar in 1986 with the question, “What are we here to do”? After some discussion he answered his own question with, “To learn”, and “To have a good time”.

He repeated this opening at subsequent seminars.

The Fifteenth Point
Mr. Murray Mansfield of Melbourne has what I believe to be the only completely up to date version of Dr. Deming’s famous Obligations for Top Management. After a long discussion with Murray during his last Australian seminar, Dr. Deming agreed that there ought to be a fifteenth point. He took Murray’s notes turned to the page containing the fourteen points and at the foot of the page wrote:

15.     Have a good time!

Related: I Don’t KnowFind Joy and Success in Businessposts on respect for peopleDestroyed by Best EffortsLets Play WorkSeven (plus 2) Deadly Diseases of Western Management

Hiring the Right Person

Malcolm Gladwell presented at the New Yorker conference on the Challenge of Hiring in the Modern World. As usually, he provides some great thoughts. I wrote on Hiring the Right Workers

The job market is an inefficient market. There are many reasons for this including relying on specification (this job requires a BS in Computer Science – no Bill Gates you don’t meet the spec) instead of understanding the system. Insisting on managing by the numbers even when the most important figures are unknown and maybe unknowable. Using HR to find the right person to work in a process they don’t understand (which reinforces the desire to focus on specifications instead of a more nuanced approach). The inflexibility of companies: so if a great person wants to work 32 hours a week – too bad we can’t hire them. And on and on.

Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t use the same language but I think he says many of the same ideas: “Insisting on managing by the numbers even when the most important figures are unknown and maybe unknowable.” etc. This idea he frames as a mismatch problem.

Related: Hiring: Silicon Valley StylePeople are Our Most Important AssetMalcolm Gladwell SynchronicityHiring, Does College Matter?Interviewing and Hiring ProgrammersGladwell (and Drucker) on Pensions

Management Blog Posts From June 2005

Here are the blog posts from 3 years ago this month on the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog: From Mechanistic to Social Systemic ThinkingTargets Distorting the SystemDilbert and Deming.

The Dilbert site has learned to take advantage of the web and allow embedding of the strips on blogs and web pages. Good for them, but you really would have thought they would have lead this trend not delayed so long.

[Was displaying Dilbert strip from 21 January 1997 before pointy haired boss broke their service]

Update: Oh and now they seem to have broken the service. Not really a surprise if you figure the people managing Dilbert apply the pointy haired boss’ ideas to help them manage. Sigh. Scott Adams is not in any danger or running out to management lameness to ridicule.

Find Joy and Success in Business

</p> <div><a href='http://www.omnisio.com'>Share and annotate your videos</a> with Omnisio!</div> <p>

David Heinemeier Hansson Talk at Startup School 2008 (Paul Graham‘s Y-combinator school). It is helpful to appreciate the importance of some simple ideas. Working on web focused businesses people often get carried away with the huge potential and sometimes lose touch with reality. While the ideas are more obvious when looking at web related business their is plenty here for many companies (the second half might be more helpful for many).

In this talk David does a great job of explaining how 37 signals has chosen to work. They are not concerned with becoming large. They focus on doing what they want to do – creating great software solutions (see: Systemic Workplace Experiments). And on making money to allow them to stay in business.

Some tidbits of advice: create great applications, charge people money, make a profit. Yes to those outside the web world this might seem obvious… He discusses a very similar idea to the idea of 1,000 true fans. He mentions to bring in a $1 million, all you need is 2,000 customers paying $40/month. 37 Signals has done well focusing on small business. Don’t be in such a hurry.

Related: Why is 37signals so arrogant?Complicating SimplicityJoy in Software DevelopmentGreat Marissa Mayer Webcast on Google Innovation

Making a Difference

Kiva provides loans through partners (operating in the countries) to the entrepreneurs. Those partners do charge the entrepreneurs interest (to fund the operations of the lending partner). Kiva pays the principle back to you but does not pay interest. And if the entrepreneur defaults then you do not get your capital paid back (in other words you lose the money you loaned).

They do an excellent job of using the internet to allow people like me to feel connected to people we can help. And in so doing, they do an excellent job of implementing their strategy (providing funds for micro-loans) to achieve their goal (to alleviate poverty). “Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.”

Today I added $450 to my loan portfolio with Kiva and donated another $100 to Kiva. I added 5 loans in: Tanzania (2 loans), Uganda, Paraguay and Ecuador.

I am happy with the success of the Curious Cat blogs but I do have one item I wish would improve. I wish more Curious Cat readers would take advantage of Kiva. If you lend through Kiva, please add a comment with a link to your Kiva page and I will add you to our list of Curious Cat Kiva Contributors.

The Kiva web site includes all sorts of data on the partners making the loans (the capital at risk is provided by Kiva donors but a local organization services the loans…). For example, see the profile for Tujijenge Tanzania Ltd. This shows for example the Amount Repaid Vs Expected Rate (100% for this partner – no defaults or delinquency). The rates for all Kiva loans are 3.75% delinquent and .12% defaulted. They also show the Average Interest Rate Borrower Pays To Kiva Field Partner (which is 24% in this example) and the Average Local Money Lender Interest Rate (which is 60%).

One of things I really hope to see is some research on the results Kiva is producing. What kind of changes are these loans bringing about: specifically looking at Kiva. And also looking at various factors such as the interest rate and whether targeting my lending to those with lower average rates results in greater benefit. There is a great deal of unknown and unknowable numbers involved but some data would be interesting as well as analysis even without numbers of results.

Related: Using Capitalism to Make the World BetterFrontline Explores Kiva in UgandaProviding a Helping Hand via KivaExpanding Credit Access: Using Randomized Supply Decisions to Estimate the ImpactsMicrofinance research links

NCAA Basketball Challenge 2008

Once again I have created a group on the ESPN NCAA Basketball Tournament Challenge for curiouscat college basketball fans. To participate, go to the curiouscat ESPN group and make your picks.

This year we also have a second challenge, using sportsline, that rewards picking upsets. So those that enjoy the tournament please join the fun. The password for this one is cat

Go Badgers and Go Davidson,

Car Powered Using Compressed Air

car powered using compressed air

Jules Verne predicted cars would run on air. The Air Car is making that a reality. The car would be powered by compressed air. Certainly seem like an interesting idea. Air car ready for production:

Refueling is simple and will only take a few minutes. That is, if you live nearby a gas station with custom air compressor units. The cost of a fill up is approximately $2.00. If a driver doesn’t have access to a compressor station, they will be able to plug into the electrical grid and use the car’s built-in compressor to refill the tank in about 4 hours.

The car is said to have a driving range of 125 miles so by my calculation it would cost about 1.6 cents per mile. A car that gets 31 mpg would use 4 gallons to go 124 miles. At $3 a gallon for gas, the cost is $12 for fuel or about 9.7 cents per mile. I didn’t notice anything about maintenance costs. I don’t see any reason why the Air Car would cost more to maintain than a normal car. Five-seat concept car runs on air

An engineer has promised that within a year he will start selling a car that runs on compressed air, producing no emissions at all in town.

Tata is the only big firm he’ll license to sell the car – and they are limited to India. For the rest of the world he hopes to persuade hundreds of investors to set up their own factories, making the car from 80% locally-sourced materials.

“Imagine we will be able to save all those components traveling the world and all those transporters.” He wants each local factory to sell its own cars to cut out the middle man and he aims for 1% of global sales – about 680,000 per year. Terry Spall from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers says: “I really hope he succeeds. It is a really brave experiment in producing a sustainable car.”

Now does that sound like the Toyota Production System to you? It should. If I were an executive at Toyota I would sure examine this to see if it really is as promising as it looks. And if it is Toyota sure has plenty of cash and the management practice to make a very compelling case for allowing Toyota to produce this globally. The engineers desires closely match what Toyota has learned. Both seek to eliminate the waste of transportation (friction).

Related: Click Fraud = Friction for GoogleManufacturing Takes off in IndiaElectric Automobiles

Toyota’s Partner Robot

Toyota partner robot photo

Latest robot in Toyota’s line showcases violin skills

But Toyota’s new robot played a pretty solid “Pomp and Circumstance” on the violin Thursday. The 152-centimetre [about 5 feet] tall white robot used its mechanical fingers to push the strings correctly and bowed with its other arm, coordinating the movements well. Toyota Motor Corp. has already shown robots that roll around to work as guides and have fingers dexterous enough to play the trumpet.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said robotics will be a core business for the company in coming years. He says Toyota will test out its robots at hospitals, Toyota-related facilities and other places starting next year. He hopes to see partner robots in use by 2010.

“We want to create robots that are useful for people in everyday life,” he told reporters at a Toyota showroom in Tokyo. Watanabe and other Toyota officials said robotics was a natural extension of the automaker’s use of robots in manufacturing, as well as the development of technology for autos related to artificial intelligence, such as sensors and pre-crash safety systems.

As I have mentioned before Toyota continues to invest and plan for the long term. And that future is not limited to automobile manufacture. We posted previously on Toyota’s partner robots. The Curious Cat Engineering Blog Robotics category has a great deal of posts on robots.

On the Toyota web site they list the following areas of non-automotive Toyota business (I don’t understand why robots are not included here): financial services, new business enterprises, marine and most surprisingly Biotechnology and Afforestation.

Related: Toyota as HomebuilderToyota Engineers a New Plant: the Living KindToyota’s iUnit webcast (personal transport)Toyota’s Early HistoryInterview with Toyota PresidentMore on Non-Auto Toyota12 Stocks for 10 Years Update
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