Grade A Entrepreneurs

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Diateino publishes L’Ere du Contexte, French version of the Age of Context

September 8th, 2014 · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

Diateino just published the French translation of The Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel: L’Ere du Contexte. Here below is the English version of the preface I wrote for the French audience.

When we speak  about the “context” of a phrase or an event, we allude to the circumstances and conditions that give that phrase or event its particular meaning, or import. The “context,” then, acting as a backdrop, allows us to understand, to explain, or to justify the things we encounter through resonance to particular times and/or places. Everything that we say and do is inscribed in an environment we cannot always control, and upon which we are dependent.

In The Age of Context, Shel Israel and Robert Scoble extend and, in some ways, invert the idea of context. Although we are the children of our time, acting and thinking within the spatial and locational framework given us, we are more than the simple products of a context; we are also its creators, by the choices we make and the use of our free will. These days, new technologies offer so many possibilities that we have, more than ever, the ability to become architects of our own contexts.

In the age of hyper-connection, a multitude of technologies allow us to place ourselves within an environment, to understand its complexity, to modify and control it. The Age of Context describes our ability to adapt our surroundings to our needs and extract information that will optimize our decisions and grow our efficacy. We live in a world of mobile devices, social media, and geographical sensors and services that continually transmit to us data that widen our experiences while simultaneously refining them. The context era touches every area of our lives, and it attaches us to all sorts of objects that are themselves interconnected. In 2009, one of the best blogs dedicated to gadgets created by two French people, Eliane Fiolet and Hubert Nguyen, Ubergizmo, asked, “Who would have thought that something as ordinary as a bathroom scale would end up with Wifi functionality? The Wifi Withings scale (from a French company) not only has a look straight out of science-fiction, it can also send your weight and other data to an online dashboard, which you can access via a free iPhone app.”

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel share with us their enthusiasm for human connection through examples from their world, primarily in the United States. But the context age is spreading at more or less the same rate everywhere in the world, and thousands of entrepreneurs are rivaling one another with their ingenuity and creativity. Some are taking on enormous infrastructure problems, such as the Toulouse start-up SIGFOX, which offers a global network powering the Internet of Things that consume little energy and is inexpensive: “I have brought back a taste for low-cost technology that was used by submarines in World War I, the Ultra Narrow Band, which was used to transmit signals in Morse code,” recalls not without humor the company’s founder, Ludovic Le Moan. “With this technology, we deal with very weak signals in the midst of enormous ambient noise.” At the same time, other entrepreneurs merge design and technology with rare elegance, such as, for instance, Netatmo: its smartphone thermostat, designed by Phillipe Starck, allows you  to remotely control your heating system while it remembers your habits to adjust the temperature in real time. June, conceived by Camille Toupet, meanwhile, is a splendid piece of jewelry that measures solar exposure and advises women on how best to protect themselves from the sun’s effects.

“Wearables” in general have an important marketing impact. When you wear Google Glass, you become the focus of a very specific interest. You may fascinate and attract the people who want to try them on or, to the contrary, repulse people who fear being stripped of their privacy. Yet, while it is true that some new technologies may generate apprehension, or even outright phobia, it is also a fact that most people get used to it more quickly than we may think: new conventions and rules of courtesy and quality of life are emerging, just as they did with the advent of cell phones. We quickly forget the inconveniences of novelty and retain only its benefits. Ask, for example, the eighty-year-old patient operated upon in a hospital near Rennes what she thinks about the fact that her doctor was able to directly transmit images of her surgery to a professor in Japan! “Thanks to Google Glass, it was as if the professor was by my side at the operating table,” Doctor Collin told a reporter from Ouest-France. “He could see exactly what I was seeing and could interact with me via the glasses’ display.”

Google is testing a prototype for contact lenses that would help diabetics measure glucose levels in their eyes. Samsung, teaming up with San Francisco University, has opened a lab to develop data sensors to allow digital health regulation. The Age of Context is not about the magical era of automatons functioning according to predetermined programs; these days, sensors allow objects to receive and analyze data in order to adapt appropriately to varied environments and consumers without any particular technical knowledge. These objects are more or less complex, but they are usually very simple to use, whether we are talking about the Kolibree toothbrush, which remembers your brushing habits and identify areas that you are brushing incorrectly, or about the Flower Parrot, which helps you optimally take care of your plants.

The Age of Context is a revolution in our daily lives that touches jewelry, electric mowers, cars, drones, or small communication devices such as the Wi-Fi-enabled Nabaztag, which has engendered several next generations since 2005 and whose creator, Rafi Haladjian, has been on a mission “to develop systems that are really intelligent and that allow for the creation of new services in all areas of life.” The smart home is no longer a concept but a reality that is growing and being refined quickly with fascinating incarnations, as the Commission for Energy Regulation (Commission de régulation de l’énergie) reminds us in its survey of communicating house projects and intelligent buildings worldwide: “Eco-efficiency in terms of energy, with intelligence loaded into a habitat and its equipment, is now recognized as a priority by policies and institutions.” This involves numerous economic players, whether they be of the old or new guard: makers of household appliances, producers of electric heating, agents of worldwide telecommunication and internet, building companies, the automobile industry… In this vein, the report adds, “Toyota is developing in Japan, in the village of Rokkasho, a smart housing project, the Toyota Smart Center, in which the automobile manufacturer has established two smart homes equipped with a house system for energy management, with six electric vehicles, rechargeable Prius hybrids.” Naturally, Honda has elected to do something similar in California, where the cars and houses will all be part of a Smart Grid,  “smart” electricity distribution network.

The Age of Context describes what Jeremy Rifkin calls “the third industrial revolution.” Whatever the area, the leading directive is one of “smart” assistance to the consumer, that is to say, “a concentration of technology accompanies you in your daily life,” as Omate described its connected watch. Or the idea is to give you the ability to augment your reality, as promises Optinvent, a Rennes-based company that is determined to compete with Google Glass. This is the age of “Smart-Sensing,” which is the name that Cityzen Sciences, a company specialized in the creation of connected textiles, has given to its program. This era is also resolutely optimistic: “This bonding between people and machines will result in people being healthier, better informed, more aware of changes in their environments and more secure, efficient and productive,” writes Scoble and Israel. It’s the opposite of futuristic nightmares of uniformity in the style “Brave New Word,” as everyone can expect a highly personalized experience. Who will have to wait for a cab in the rain when Chauffeur Privé, Drive, LeCab or SnapCar can be summoned in an instant? Stéphane Marceau, co-founder of OMSignal, a Canadian company producing smartwear that gives you data about your physical and emotional states, is not lacking in humor when he takes on as his motto this statement by Aldous Huxley: “There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own.”

Our hyper-intelligent world is, of course, a world of Big Data… and The Age of Context cannot help asking important questions: Where is this data going? Who owns it? To what extent can this data be used against us? The purpose of this book is not to answer these questions, nor is it either to add fodder to these fears or to diminish them. It is certain that only highly precise data and in great numbers is able to provide us with data that matters: Big Data is the necessary flipside of “Little Data” honed for the hyper-personalized services that we have come to expect. What’s more, escaping this targeting is more easily said than done, as Janet Vertesi, assistant professor in sociology at Princeton, discovered when she tried to hide her pregnancy from the internet, as she explained at the Brooklyn conference Theorizing the Web… But perhaps the expansion of this context-driven age will also, ultimately, give consumers the means completely to control the terms of use of their data in commercial situations. The era of “ultra-private” smartphones is already upon us, as is the era of new regulations. As the Huffington Post reminds us, “‘The trend of the quantified self will lead to tides of very personal data that will need to be protected,’ warns the National Commission on Informatics and Liberty.”

Happy reading!

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Women in HR should be thrilled about the appointment of Mary Barra as GM’s CEO

December 11th, 2013 · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

I just wrote a post on my company’s blog about Mary Barra:

Of course, I  was thrilled to hear that Mary Barra will be the new CEO of GM. The appointment of any woman at the head of a company is a victory for all women.

My post on three takeaways for HR:

  • The value of being able to keep talented interns.
  • The power of internal mobility: Mary Barra was involved over the years with virtually every aspect of the business.
  • The power of an being outstanding VP of GM’s human resources department, a position that she occupied between 2009 and 2011. She is credited with making the culture of the company evolve.

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APE, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch: a must-read

December 10th, 2012 · Book Review

APEAPE, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to write a book and self-publish. It’s packed with information, advice, tips and resources.

Even if you still dream of finding the ideal agent and the most prestigious publisher on the planet, chances are that you will be ignored. So don’t waste your time: take your fate into your own hands and go for self-publishing. This book tells you how to make it right.

Is it easy? No…

Self-publishing is not easy — but certainly easier than waiting for miracles. Guy warns you: “I thought self-publishing would be easy: write in Microsoft Word, upload to Amazon, and cash checks.” Now, his book tells you what it actually takes, and what you need to do. It’s hard work, but you will make it if you are equipped. First, make sure that:

1) You want to become an author for the right reason — be of interest to real readers out in the wild (and not just to please yourself or your friends).

2) You understand that the self-publishing revolution is only starting: “only about 10% of publishing revenue comes from ebooks.” But that shouldn’t detract you, especially if you don’t stand a chance contributing to the 90% of the print books of the US publishing industry. Think of the opportunity: you are part of a new movement.

So start… Use the right tools. Read this book starting from page 1. Get Word. Create your template or leverage the work of others, such as Guy’s APE or Adam Shepherd’s Perfect Pages: Self Publishing with Microsoft Word. Don’t waste time doubting yourself and turn into a daring entrepreneur.

Is it possible? Yes. Start now!

Finance your book. You are not paid to write your book and it’s going to cost you some money. Not a fortune, but as in any business, check what you are ready to spend based on how many books you might be able to sell. Leverage existing organizations such as the Independent Book Publishers Association or crowdfund your efforts using Indiegogo, Unbound, Pubslush, or Kickstarter. Self-publishing is business with real upside potential. Yet, do not underestimate your costs and price your book accordingly — albeit reasonably.

Offer a clean product: Self-publishing requires a DIY mindset. This doesn’t mean that you will get away with an amateurish product: “Your goal is a book that looks and feels as good as any book from a big-time, traditional publisher [...] The whole point of self-publishing is to produce a book faster, better, and cheaper than a traditional publisher.” So take the time to understand the authors’ recommendations, from “how to convert a file” to leveraging a new trend of “Author Services.”

Think “Distribution:” The self-publishing ecosystem is fragmented and messy. Just as any entrepreneur, analyze what it is about and choose your distribution channel (eBook resellers or direct) based on your goals. Take some time to learn from others. The simplest path is Kindle Direct Publishing, but also look into Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Kobo; compare, and still consider selling directly to readers! Remember also that self-publishing doesn’t prevent you from using Print-on- Demand companies for printed versions. An important detail: Every format of a book needs a unique ISBN (although all ebook platforms count as one format).

Be smart: Throughout the book, Guy and Shawn give you the tools and advice you need successfully to self-publish your book. Look at them as your mentors. Listen to them. Do not overlook any chapter, even though you can read this book in whatever order you want. It’s part of your roadmap as an entrepreneur to keep your enthusiasm while remaining vigilant (and using common sense). In the end, success depends on you: market your book like crazy using any guerrilla tactics that come your way and build an enchanting brand: “the quality of your book and the quantity of your moxie are more important than the amount of money you’ve spent.”

Like Guy’s first book, The Macintosh Way, of which I had the privilege of being one of the very first readers, this book ”celebrates passion, competition, excellence, and hard work. The basic premise is that David can defeat Goliath, that a teenager can fly into Red Square, and that an ex-jewelry schlepper from Hawaii can eat pate with a French philosopher at Jacques Cagna in Paris.” Become a self-published author the “Macintosh Way,” which entails “doing the right thing and doing things right,” and ”competing on execution.” Become part of the APEcommunity: join the movement on Google+.

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Compete Now: The 2013 New Year Challenge for Entrepreneurs

December 8th, 2012 · Entrepreneurs

1m:mOne Million by One Million (1M/1M) celebrated it’s 150th free and online roundtable mentoring session for entrepreneurs a few days ago, and announced its 2013 New Year Challenge.

The Prize:

The New Year Challenge will award twelve scholarships worth $1,000 each to twelve entrepreneurs. This scholarship allows entrepreneurs to join the 1M/1M premium program that offers private roundtable sessions, a comprehensive curriculum, and introductions to potential customers, channel partners, media, analysts, and investors.

How to compete

  • Complete the application process here by December 20.
  • Get at least 50 of your Facebook friends to vote for you here by January 3, 2013 to qualify for the final round.
  • 20 finalists will be chosen by audience voting, so get AS MANY of your Facebook friends to vote for you as you can to maximize your chance to win.

Selection process

Twenty entrepreneurs will be selected to pitch their startup during the finals on January 10 and January 17, 2013 by audience voting.


The 20 Finalists will be notified by January 7, 2013, and instructed on preparing their presentations for the January 10 and 17 finals. The finals will be held during the 1M/1M roundtables, and you can register to attend here.

Twelve entrepreneurs will win the prizes! Go for it!

To know more about the program: One Million by One Million (1M/1M). I also wrote a post a while back about this amazing — and highly successful — initiative started by Sramana Mitra to democratize entrepreneurship education. Today, over 50,000 people participate in the 1M/1M community. Several revenue-generating companies have been incubated in the program, some have received angel and/or VC funding, and some have crossed the $1M mark. You can listen to some of them in the recording of the 150th roundtable on YouTube.

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Great book: Google+ for Small Businesses by Lynette Young

December 3rd, 2012 · Book Review

Google+ for Small business I met Lynette Young at Guy Kawasaki’s party at SXSW earlier this year. She contributed to one of the chapters of Guy’s landmark book, What the Plus!: Google+ for the Rest of Us. No wonder, Lynette represents the elite of “female googlers,” with over 1.5M followers.

Lynette just released an excellent short book. Google+ for Small Businesses. Her goal is to help you to realize that ”Google + makes it easy for the small business owner with limited resources to be on an “even playing ground” with large corporations that have seemingly unlimited budgets.” Google + is more than a social media network: it’s the platform by the online search and advertising giant that owns the two most used search engines in the world, Google and YouTube. So visibility for your small company is at your fingertip.

Start with the end of the book: Your “One-Month Action Plan.”

Browse through Lynette’s “One-Month Action Plan” to realize that leveraging Google+ for your small business is not an insurmountable endeavor.  ”By taking 15– 30 minutes a day for one month, you can build a solid Google + presence and plan. At the end of one month, you will have circled 100 people and left comments on almost that many pieces of content. You can build a solid following and a library of content both available in Google + and via search on the Internet if you follow this plan. By focusing on a handful of tasks at a time and building on progress you’ve made the days before, you will come to the end of the Action Plan with a stronger understanding of Google + and the start of a community.”
 Now, read the book…

One hour or so of good reading

Lynette doesn’t drown you under tons of marketing hoops and loops, and instead walks you through the basics of Google+ in six chapters (plus the last one) that describe the platform’s main features, provide ideas to promote and support your business, increase your leads, enhance your support, or organize events with your customers and leads. One of the key characteristics to be aware of as a small business leader is to take into account major differences between your personal Google+ account and Google+ Pages for your organization. Using Pages, you cannot circle someone that has not circled you first and you cannot convert your Google+ Profile into a Page (but you can and should have both!). This anti-spam mechanism has its benefits. In turn, you won’t be spammed yourself and this forces you to develop a real attraction strategy and interact constructively with Googlers as a small business (instead of adopting a swarmy pitching style that exasperates everybody). Of course, hangouts and Hangout on Air can be initiated as a Page, which can be key for your marketing or lead generation initiatives. Take advantage of great tips scattered throughout the book, such as this one:  ”When you attach an image to a post, be sure the image has a descriptive name such as red-kids-sneakers.png rather than IMG0032002. Consider using part numbers or SKU numbers in the file name if that is a common way those products are searched and referenced. Google Search and Google Image Search can “read” the words in the name of the file and use them as keywords!”

Move into action…

On Google+, just as any social platform, you must be genuine, show that you care for others by sharing their content, and offer meaningful content of your own adapted to your various targets. For example, don’t bombard your VIP circle with tips that only matter to your current customers. With minimal, but consistent efforts, your Google+ Page will operate as an important amplifier for your small business. So keep in mind that a social platform basically follows the same etiquette as the physical world. If you are nasty, your nastiness will come across as even more ridiculous than it is. If you are great, your greatness, too, will be magnified.

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Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It

August 16th, 2012 · Book Review

CappelliAlso posted on the TalentCircles blog.

A refreshing short book by Peter Cappelli, Director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources! This is a must read for any HR Professional, of course, but even more for anyone who is in a management position and has the power, or simply the will, to put an end the current “crippling employer-employee standoff.” The purpose of Peter Cappelli’s book is to get “America’s job engine revved up again.”

We are all familiar with the litany of complaints: Companies can’t find skilled workers, schools are not providing the right kind of training, the government doesn’t let in enough highly skilled immigrants, prospective employees don’t want jobs at the wages that are offered, etc. If perception and scattered research might give some weight to such complaints, Cappelli demonstrates that they don’t add up when looked at holistically, and that they come across as urban myths.

Are we a nation of un-qualified people? In a market with a lot of job applicants, companies tend to look for purple squirrels or unicorns. Are job seekers unqualified for not fitting a paranormal job description? Does it allow us to jump to the conclusion that “there is a skills gap” when the hardest-to-fill jobs appear to be those that often require the least skills? In reality, lots of job seekers are overqualified: “When applicants far outnumber job openings, the overqualified bump out those only adequately qualified… And the proportion of overqualified has more than doubled over the past generation.” Cappelli sees very little evidence of an actual supply problem and asks a valid question: Isn’t it a paradox that the US would rank seven among 39 countries (survey performed by Manpower in 2011) in terms of employers’ complaints about an inability to fill jobs, while in China, the new global rising power, these complaints are half as frequent? Does China have a larger pull of “qualified” people?  No — simply millions learn on the job and do so very quickly, just as generations of Americans have. In the end, the analysis shows that skills aren’t the issue, but market-determined wages are…

Are your kids less intelligent that you were at their age? Nobody wants to believe this, but businesses are quick to assume that today’s workforce is more flawed than 20 years ago. There is no evidence to support this “good old days bias” either. Cappelli indicates that US student performance has actually improved over the past decades. In addition, studies by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation (OCDE) do not show any absolute decline in US scores. Emerging countries are simply catching up — and they do not belittle their workforce nearly as much as we do. Another great point: the history of Russia “reminds us that an economy’s success is not related to education in any simple fashion.”

So what’s wrong? Job seekers and employers talk at cross purposes. Is it reasonable to expect job seekers to have done the work before because companies don’t want to train people? While it’s certainly valid to fear that a newly trained employee might go to the competition, it’s equally logical to wonder why a newly trained employee would leave… Maybe this was not the right hire in the first place… Maybe the very culture or a non-existent culture of the company is the problem. Is it reasonable to assume that filling a job vacancy is akin to replacing a part in a washing machine — what Peter Cappelli calls the “Home Depot Syndrome” — and assume that people are mere cogs in the industrial machine? This may not be the safest angle to increase a company’s productivity or creativity, or to even motivate people to join a company.

Cappelli mentions two major problems: The first one is the automated software used to filter job seekers — it allegedly complies with the mandate of equal treatment of all candidates, yet ends up generating pervasive unfairness: people can’t find jobs even though there are millions of open positions. How long will the legal requirements be an excuse for using antiquated software? The second one is the loss of power of the HR function: “Not coincidentally, the United States has the weakest human resources in the industrialized world.” The ultimate call is certainly to re-empower human resources, and re-empower recruiters —give them a strategic role. Brain drain is the death of companies, and so is brain blindness: “Millions of unfilled jobs are costing the economy billions of dollars in lost business,” reminds Cappelli.

This little book is a powerful eye-opener. As I was reading through it, it seemed to me that what is initially presented as a sort of standoff between job seekers and employers may not be that willingly created by employers, and may raise a broader question about the ability for established companies to realize that economic survival in a global economy is more about building and nurturing talent and less about “filling” positions. The vast majority of the people who look for the perfect match today would not be hired in their own company. They benefited from a system when trust in people and intra-entrepreneurship mattered, which is the deep history of this country: the US started the modern industrial revolution thanks to millions of “unqualified” people — and Cornelius Vanderbilt left school when he was 11.

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“De-season” yourself to remain innovative!

July 27th, 2012 · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

Earlier this month, Heidi Groshelle invited me as a keynote speaker to the ExecEvent organized by Greg Duplessie — it is an exclusive networking event for industry executives focusing on the data storage marketplace. I was asked to share tips and tricks about being an executive. Vast topic! So I decided to address only one theme: Reinvent yourself continuously to create your own A-Team.

BecassineWhen I came from France to Silicon Valley in the late 1980s to found a tech startup, I learned one key thing: that what I knew was nothing compared to what I didn’t know… Since then this has been my motto. As counter-intuitive as this may be, I would say that keeping one’s self confidence in check helps to continuously rekindle creativity and develop new tools of self-reliance. I am glad that more researchers start to emphasize the power of “less-confidence.” I mentioned a great piece by Tomas Chamarro-Premusic, Professor of Business Psychology in London (UCL), for HBR: Less-Confident People can be More SuccessfulMy take-away: Confidence that you have built over the years relates to what you did, not what you will do.

TintinYes, it’s hard to check your experience at the door… But consider this: The experience that we have acquired in a job may be valuable, but more often than not, this same experience may encourage us to operate on automatic pilot, and therefore can prevent us from seeing what’s new or what should be different. Tintin’s moon mostly resembles the Alps without the trees, and his vehicle is more like a tank — nothing in common with Lunar Roving Vehicles (LRV) of the Apollo missions. Checking your experience at the door means, in practice, letting the scales fall from your eyes. After one year in any job, these scales are forming fast… My take-away: While it’s a cliché to say that a failure can accelerate success, it’s also true that former success can cause failure.

New skiesSure, you may feel lonely when you start something new, and the temptation is to hold on to what you know, or find reassurance from people “who know more.” While it’s good to listen to the experience of others, it’s equally critical to make sure that they are not affected by their own Tintin syndrome. When I started my first company, I was advised to hire “seasoned executives” with 10 years of experience… Even though desktop software was new, even though Macintosh was really new, it was already the craze to hire “industry veterans.” I was not used to business verbiage and was scratching my head. There were no veterans in the Apple world… and the self-proclaimed veterans hated the Mac and were shouting that Apple was doomed to fail. My take-away: Seasoned executives may be great, but they may also have vested interest in the past. So watch for the birds that can help you move towards new skies.

PopulateYou can’t lead alone, except when you are a dictator (and want to die a violent death). So, how do you surround yourself? “Hire ‘infected’ people,” to use great expression by my friend Guy Kawasaki in The Art of the Start: “It’s often easier to teach an infected candidate how to do a job than to teach an agnostic (or atheist) how to believe.” This is true for startups, of course, but also for large corporations who want to innovate again. I can safely say that my various companies had the most diverse people. None was born “seasoned,” and all turned out to be extremely effective. These people were not connected to one another because of their background or their education. They were connected to one another because of a common purpose. My takeaway: Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. Diversity creates vibrant and energetic companies.

Purple squirrelsAfter hiring a few hundred people myself over the last 25 years, I realized that I never looked for the perfect resume. More exactly, I was discouraged by resumes very early on, because they were full of what I later discovered were called “key words.” When I was asking the candidates what they meant, I was regularly disappointed. So basically I always ended up “hiring for attitude” to use the title of Mark Murphy’s book. I never looked for the “purple squirrel” considering that when people have a passion, they learn fast. Training new employees is far more cost-effective that experiencing high turnover, anyway. Now that I am in the HR industry as the CEO of TalentCircles, I am finding out that turnover is even worse than I thought: “46% of people hired in 2012 will fail within the first 18 months on the job,” and “an astounding 89% of the time, employees fail for attitudinal reasons, and only 11% of the time because of skill.” Also, of course, I recommended George Anders’ remarkable essay, “The Rare Find.” My take-away: In practice, spotting talent before everybody else is the ability to help people develop their potential.

PenguinsHiring for attitude means finding your “brown shorts,” the people who will really be able to contribute to your team: a Southwest interviewer had asked pilot interviewees to wear the company’s Summer uniform (brown Bermuda shorts instead of formal pants). The candidates refusing to wear the shorts showed that they were not a good fit. I never had any specific name to my various teams. Call yours the “penguins of Madagascar” if you want. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private are cute-looking penguins, but with unique commando skills. They will make competitors “crazy” and make customers fall in love. And each is a true evangelist of the company’s culture, both inside and outside, and so committed to the cause that you can let them talk on social networks. My take-way:  Let your team speak on social media channels. As they communicate, they also learn what’s going on in the industry. If they don’t, you may be running a nursing home.

Conquer new wordsI love this cartoon created by Hugh MacLeod for Rackspace and its “Rackers,” where the Little Prince is a cosmonaut and Tintin’s space shuttle, a hybrid of nature and culture. My take-way: Even large companies can think like startups.

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Wells Fargo: “Gayness” and Leadership, Inclusiveness for Real

June 21st, 2012 · Talents, Innovators

JoannaClarkGuest post by Joanna Clark

The Diverse Leaders Program : Late this spring I was nominated and accepted to attend the Diverse Leaders Program with my new company Wells Fargo.  I joined Wells Fargo after a 15-year career at a similarly large multi-national company holding various leadership roles within its Talent Acquisition organization.  What makes this story of a Diversity program unique is that in addition to being singled out for my potential as a leader, the reason for my selection was not so clear to me.  I was not selected as a woman who has been climbing the proverbial ladder in a heavily female recruiting profession led predominantly by men, nor because my mother, who was born in Mexico, immigrated here as a child in search for the American Dream for her family.  I was selected for neither of these reasons although they would both be true.  I was selected instead as a self-identified lesbian and a high potential leader to be given additional training to improve my skills as a manager and leader for the betterment of myself, my team members, my customers and our local communities.  I admit, upon learning about my selection, I could not imagine what my “gayness” could possibly have to do with my leadership skills but I intended to find out.

The competitive advantage of real inclusiveness: I arrived to the company boardroom the first morning; I was greeted by the fine facilitators at Jennifer Brown Consulting.  It was clear in meeting my new cohorts we were all stepping in the room as skeptics and slightly confused as we all talked about it coffee in hand.  As things got underway, I found myself in a room full of accomplished bankers, activists, community leaders and things started as most corporate training sessions do… the dreaded introductions.   I found myself with my normal reaction to this process… trying to suppress my eyes from rolling but shortly after it started I became riveted by the stories of the people in the room and how this for the first time seemed different.  Although most of these people looked, talked and in fact were different from me, for the first time in my professional career, there was a common theme.  We then proceeded through the week using assessments and concepts to better understand our styles of leadership.  We also openly talked about how we all felt driven to succeed so no one could say that if we failed it was because of our “gayness”… I remember thinking I did not realize others felt that way too.  We went on to discover our leadership skills throughout the week and I was surprised as to how much I was getting from this experience.

After three jammed packed days we ‘graduated’ and Jennifer Brown gave us our last word… our last turn at the floor to tell the class whatever we wanted.  In preparing my last word was when I finally found the answer to my question, “what does my gayness have to do with my leadership style?”  So I delivered my answer to my 42 new friends…. The answer was nothing…  My “gayness” was not the point when dealing with who I am as a leader, manager or team member at Wells Fargo.  Instead what I found was that this program was something entirely different.  Instead it was about inclusion, real inclusion.  Inclusion is a word, I admit I thought was the latest installment of corporate jargon to keep people on their toes and I really never understood it.  I have always understood why having a mix of different people in a workforce would be good to mirror the communities we worked in but to be truly included (every part of me) by a company, for the first time, was something I did not expect nor could I anticipate the impact.    Diversity and inclusiveness is something Wells considers a competitive advantage, and with their investment in my cohorts and myself I would say they are right.  They went beyond tolerating us and teaching us what they want us to know and instead asked us to be the best leaders we could be and bring all of us to work knowing that would make us better as a company if all 265,000 team members did that.  I’d say I agree!

Note: Joanna Clark, Recruiting Manager for Wells Fargo indicates the following: “Opinions are my own.”

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Job Candidate Experience: Treating people well is excellent business

May 24th, 2012 · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

DaumierHow many times have HR Professionals heard Gerry Crispin discuss the importance of providing an outstanding candidate experience? How many companies truly act on his recommendations? Not enough. To evaluate how your company fares, check one of Gerry Crispin’s presentations or make sure to catch one of his talks. If you believe that your company is ahead of the curve, apply for the Candidate Experience Award.

The HR Copernican Revolution: Caring about Candidate Experience is not just “nice to do.” It’s mission-critical for all of a company’s departments. Look at it as a mandatory HR Copernican Revolution: Your company is no longer the center of the universe — candidates are. While companies may still believe that it’s a privilege to “offer” a job to a candidate and that candidates should abide by whatever rules companies decide to set, Gerry Crispin opportunely reminds that “candidate experience is what THEY say it is, not how you think you’ve designed it.”

Many companies still have the mindset that people should just be happy to get a job, especially at times of significant unemployment. Sure, unemployed persons will see the opportunity to land a job as a godsend. Will a positive result make them necessarily forget about their painful experience to get it? Unlikely. They may just leave for another company at the first opportunity, simply because they never had the personal feeling of being truly valued and desired in the first place: companies spend fortunes hiring, but the costs of talent churn are outrageous!

Candidate Experience is even more important for candidates that do not have the right profile for the job at a given time. It’s key to send a courteous rejection letter; however, not all companies do. That’s a huge oversight:

  • Over 50% of job applicants are unlikely to buy from or recommend a company that mistreated them.
  • Even more importantly, candidates have all the capabilities to tell their stories, and not all of them are just disgruntled creeps. They are human beings, and may become the talent that will make your competitors shine.

Embrace the universe! Keep your candidates informed at all times in the process and go even further, welcome the universe onto your own planet! Welcome candidates into your “TalentCircles.” The candidates for whom you don’t have a position today may be people you need tomorrow. Why “re-source” them when a little bit of forward-looking thinking might drive your time-to-hire to almost nothing down the road. Candidates that you will never hire are valuable: they can still admire your company and refer people that are more useful to you! Even at a time when everybody is high on “big data,” the world is actually small if you look at it from a network standpoint.

Candidates are people. Just as customers expect a good experience when a company cannot accommodate an immediate need, candidates demand a good experience even when they don’t land the job. A rejection letter is great. Giving the opportunity to a “rejected” candidate to remain in your circles and still help you is even better: candidates will forget about the disappointment and, instead, feel empowered with a purpose. They can become your ambassadors and eventually find you better people than who they are without feeling belittled. They may even be enchanted: as Guy Kawasaki likes to say “nobodies are the new somebodies.”

In fact, treating people well is not just good business, it’s often excellent business!

Also posted on the blog of TalentCircles.

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K.S. Krishnan, scientist and citizen, a Renaissance man in 20th century India

May 12th, 2012 · Book Review, Talents, Innovators

Krishnan is his native dress_- copyOn June 1946, at Buckingham Palace, a little kid born in Vizhupanoor in 1898 and who spent his early childhood in Watrap (both places now part of the Virudhunagar district in Southern India) became Sir Kariamanikkam Srinivasa Krishnan for his scientific contributions. Just one honor among multiple other national and international recognitions: the first was the Liège University Medal in 1937 and the second was his election to the fellowship of the Royal Society in 1941 (thus joining an exclusive group of only three other living Indian scientists, C.V. Raman, M.N. Saha and Birbal Sahni). His election to the Royal Society of Arts in 1951 was yet another huge honor — no greater, though, for the son of an orthodox Brahmin, who mastered Sanskrit, Tamil and the art of story-telling as well as his father, than being awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1954 and becoming the first recipient of the Bhatnagar Award in 1958. The book, Kariamanikam Srinivasa Krishnan, his life and career by D.C.V. Mallik and Sabyasachi Chatterjee, both physicists, is a fantastic and thorough tribute to one of the fathers of modern India (and whose grandson, T.M. Ravi, is a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur).

Missing the Nobel Prize with no grievance… Historians will wonder for ever  if Krishnan should have been given credit for his part in the discovery of the Raman effect that gave India its first Nobel Prize in Science in 1930 (Rabindranath Tagore had received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913). If it’s obvious that C.V. Raman, Krishnan’s mentor and research guide at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in Calcutta (now Kolkata) largely benefited from the experiments on the scattering of the light in liquids of his student, KS Krishnan turned out to be a distinguished scientist in his own right. When he left for Dacca (Dhaka – now in Bangladesh), he also left the field of Raman scattering. Over the course of his various tenures (in Dacca, again Calcutta, Allahabad and in Delhi), Krishnan focused on magnetism (especially crystal magnetism), pioneered work on electrical resistivity in metals, ventured in pure math (on what is now known as band-limited functions), and took up lattice oscillations in ionic crystals and thermionic properties of metals and semiconductors. This amazing corpus of work (that also required the ability to create the labs enabling such extensive research) won K.S. Krishnan the admiration of his fellow scientists both in India and internationally, the absolute devotion of his students, and the admiration of his countrymen, Jawaharlal Nehru being one of them. This book being written by two scientists, Krishnan’s scientific work is analyzed extremely carefully. A few pages here and there may not be easy to understand for laypeople. No big deal. Skip these pages — yet realize how much the first generation of Indian scientists went through challenges of sometimes epic proportions and yet, through their amazing leadership, were able to play at an international level with extremely limited means.

Krishnan-PANDIT JI copyParticipating in the birth of a modern country with a deep sense of traditional values: When K.S. Krishnan told his mother and in bride 1916 that he would never live in rural Watrap, and instead would become a scientist, and study at the Christian College of Madras (now Chennai), he was following the spell of the first successful generation of Indian scientists. When he moved to Calcutta in July 1920 to study under Raman, he was also stepping into the intellectual and political awakening of India. Understandably, he was drawn into the political intensity of the time: he attended every part of the special session of the Indian National Congress held in Calcutta in September 1920 (when Gandhi won by a narrow margin and was followed by Motilal Nehru accompanied by his son, Jawaharlal). His fervent involvement led to his selection as one of the student representatives to the All India Students’ Convention, which was to be held in Nagpur. However, Bidhu Bhushan Ray, K.S. Krishnan’s friend and teacher, persuaded him to stay focused on science — which was by itself a nationalist mission too as the young generation intended to show the British rulers that they would be their equal in science too. His various trips to Europe starting in the late thirties also sharpened his awareness of the role of science in the industrial development of the country. By accepting the role of Physics Chair in Allahabad in 1942, he ended up moving close to the national center of activity and became part of the core group of scientists selected by Jawaharlal Nehru to shape India as a modern industrialized nation. After opening the thirty seventh annual session of the Indian Science Congress in Dehli, Nehru, now Vice-President of the interim National Gouvernment, made it clear to K.S. Krishnan that he wanted him to not only work for science, but also for the country. K.S. Krishnan moved to Dehli and took over the directorship of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) set up by free India. From then on K.S. Krishnan played a critical role was associated with the most important scientific and educational organizations in the country (including the Atomic Energy Commission), and became an influential figure in multiple international science organizations.

K.S. Krishnan died of a heart attack in July 1961. He remained a researcher until the end (his last paper had just come out). He traveled the world and his country for science, yet his heart never left the Sathuragiri Hills, the abode of deities: K.S. Krishnan was also a legendary scholar in the Vaishnava philosophy, theology, and culture!

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