Category Archives: Fun

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

David Heinemeier Hansson Talk [the broken link has been removed] 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
Continue reading