The Politics of Working

workplace myths

Guy Kawasaki asked Penelope Trunk, the author of a book on career advancement, for her 9 biggest myths of the workplace.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the workplace, a lot of it hiring and managing people.  Here’s the list, with my thoughts (and these are only my personal thoughts).

1. You’ll be happier if you have a job you like.

There’s logic (and condescension) to the garbage man in love story, but this is not a myth.  Being a pessimist can ruin any job, but the fact is that those who do what they do only for the paycheck are generally going to be less effective and less happy.  I’m not saying you have to love it so much, you’d do it for free.  But, within the context of a job, it really helps to like what you do.

2. Job-hopping will hurt you.

I think most folks have 2 maybe 3 hops.  After that, it becomes a red flag on a resume- as does missing years in the timeline (which often hide more jumping).  So it’s a matter of degree.

3. The glass ceiling still exists.

I don’t know if the glass ceiling in the traditional sense still exists or not.  But I completely agree that lots of people are stepping off the ladder and looking for life balance.  But there will always be a segment of the population who is scrambling up as fast as they can.  The important thing is to figure out where your personal sweet spot is and work towards that.  It may be to make the most money possible, or it may not.  I hope it’s not.

4. Office politics is about backstabbing.

Interestingly (at least to me), I agree that this is largely a myth.  What backstabbing remains is much more subtle, but the ones who do it are generally found out and controlled.  If you have good and attentive managers, it’s not much of a problem.

5. Do good work, and you’ll do fine.

I agree with this, but not the toot your own horn every chance you get part.  You have to do good work, period.  Then, you have to try to get others to toot your horn for you.  If I tell you I’m good, it means nothing.  If others tell you that, it means a lot.  People don’t like self promoters because people don’t like to be sold.  They like to make their own decisions.

6. You need a good resume.

This is not a myth- at least as far as content goes.  Sure, blind resumes don’t get you the job.  But once you’ve left the interview, a good resume helps you beat out the competition.  By good, I mean content.  I agree that the form and font and whatnot don’t matter.  I wouldn’t pay some so-called expert a quarter to write my resume.

7 People with good networks are good at networking.

I totally agree that this is a myth.  People who are sincere and likeable are the best at networking.  Because to them, it’s not networking- it’s living.  Nothing turns me off faster than someone who wants to get to know me mostly to leverage off that relationship for personal gain.

8. Work hard and good things will come.

I agree that this is a myth.  Hard work is a requirement, but there’s a lot more to it.  Having said that, it’s not this: “Make sure you’re not the hardest worker. Take a long lunch. Get all your work done early. Grand thinking requires space, flexibility and time. So let people see you staring at the wall. They’ll know you’re a person with big ideas and taking time to think makes you more valuable.”  Because if you do that, people won’t think you’re a person with big ideas, they’ll think you’re a slacker.  Period.

9 Create the shiny brand of you!

This sounds like a clip from some Powerpoint presentation, but I agree with this passage: “Offer your true, good-natured self to other people and you’ll have a great network. Those who stand out as leaders have a notable authenticity that enables them to make genuinely meaningful connections with a wide range of people.”

I think people tend to over analyze job advancement.  It’s really simple.  Be smart.  Be honest.  Be kind.  Work hard.  Live good.  Manage priorities.  Find your balance.

And as Webb Wilder says, wear glasses if you need ’em.

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The Only Time You Should Start a New Company

Earlier this week, Caterina Fake posted 6 reasons it’s a bad time to start a company. I didn’t see that post until I saw Fred Wilson‘s follow-up today.

There are three of Caterina’s reasons that I find particularly compelling, because they remind me of the build up to Bubble 1.0.

1. Everybody else is starting a company.

I remember during Bubble 1.0 there were so many tech-related companies being formed that you couldn’t keep up with them. There were companies formed just to hold stakes in some of these startups. Some of these holding companies actually went public. Of course the insiders got silly rich and the retail buyers lost everything, but that was part of the game that lead to Bubble 1.0 and the pop heard round the world.

In the sports area alone, there were a ton of companies battling for reader eyeballs. I had 5 companies fly to Houston to try to convince me to either merge with them and become an insider (which I wasn’t interested in because some part of me knew the whole game was a house of cards) or to sell one or more of my sports-related sites to them (I’ve told that story before).

Everybody was racing to get their product, network, etc. put together so they could go public and make some greater-fool money. As a backup, they could sell to Fox or Yahoo or someone with more cash who dreamed of becoming Fox or Yahoo.

4. You can’t operate in obscurity anymore

This is a very good point that may actually save us from some of the greater-fool puffery that happened last time around. Even back in the mid to late nineties, the web was not the transparent, all-inclusive place it seems to be now. When some company wanted to buy one of my websites, I could get some information off their web page, but I still had to rely substantially on information I received from the company. Now there are thousands of mini-Naders blogging away about these companies.

Granted, there are some promoter-types out there writing about how wonderful most of this new Web 2.0 stuff is, and I’m sure some of them are making money in one way or another by doing it. But if you do your homework, you can get a lot more scoop about companies and the people behind them than you could back then.

Here’s a good way to carve the promoters from the tech-enthusiasts: if someone is telling you that some new application is cool and useful, think tech-enthusiast; if someone is telling you that some Web 2.0, high school science project turned business is going to be the next IBM, the look for the money trail.

As a whole, the new internet is a check and balance against monkey business. But there will always be people who, intentionally or not, use their platform to promote as opposed to inform.

The check and balance, of course, are the posts and stories people write by the hundreds or thousands. Any of these tech-related startups who get into the IPO pipeline will be plastered all over Memeorandum and a ton of other pages (including this one) with people like me asking what about this company makes it a viable public offering?

And finally, I think a lot of people learned some hard lessons back in Bubble 1.0, which will put IPO’s under greater scrutiny now. Back then, any tech-related IPO would make you money. I’m not sure that’s the case now. I have bought exactly one IPO in the past 5 years- and I have passed on opportunities for quite a few.

5. Web 2.0 isn’t all that.

Amen, sister. Caterina’s company, Flickr, is the king of the new companies, so she knows what she’s talking about.

Just look through some of my Web 2.0 Wars series posts and try to find businesses with enough legs to warrant even dreaming of big money. They’re hard to find.

IPO’s are still largely off the table (thankfully), so the exit strategy is to get bought by some bigger company who is desperate to get into the internet race.

The odds are long and the door is closing.

When is the Only Time You Should Start a New Company?

Here it is, in one, easy to remember sentence.

When you have a product or service to sell that enough people will buy to create a reasonable profit without relying on advertising revenue.

That’s it. Plain and simple and old-fashioned. And smart.


What Makes a Business Real?

karnak-793130In a post mostly designed to claim Karnak the Magnificent status, with a brief time out to praise another blogger who used to work for him for quoting him, Jason Calacanis explains to us why YouTube is “not a real business.” The circle is about to collapse on itself and we’re still in the first paragraph.

Anyway, for those like me who were bored with the story and didn’t really follow it, NBC made YouTube take down uploaded videos of the “Lazy Sunday” Saturday Night Live skit that got so much run recently- mostly because it was so available on the net. Many think, and I agree, that NBC shot itself in the foot by squelching the kind of buzz a dying of old show like the once hilarious SNL needs. This is exactly the kind of knee-jerk reaction you’d expect from old media, but some people found it compelling and there was much blogging about it.

Jason goes gives us all the reasons why YouTube is not a real business, primarily because it allows people to upload video that might be pirated. First, he compares YouTube to Kazaa and that file-sharing ilk. Then he takes a quick 180 and says that YouTube shouldn’t be shut down because it’s just like the phone company: it provides the dial tone (upload space) but what the customer does with it is up to the customer.

Does this mean that the phone company is not a real business either? Actually, it’s probably not, at least in its traditional form, but that’s not what Jason’s talking about.

Does this also mean that Flickr is not a real business? Good thing nobody told Yahoo that. How about all the file storage sites that people actually pay for (a novel concept in Web 2.0)? Does a pirated MP3 make those non-businesses as well?

I could almost get there on the argument that YouTube is not a real business, since I have said many times here that relying solely on ad revenue is not a good medium or long term business plan, mainly because you have too many players fighting over too few ad dollars in a very cyclical and fickle online ad market.

But then we get to the good part.

Jason tells us the good businesses.

Digg, Engadget and MySpace.

Engadget, of course, being one of the blogs in the blog network Jason sold to AOL, for allegedly big dollars. He still works for AOL, presumably over the blog network he created.

I wonder if he sees even a hit of irony here?

The others, while hugely popular and wildly successful by Web 2.0 standards, also rely almost entirely on ad revenue dollars.

Being at the front of the line when the limited ad dollars are passed out is a huge advantage. But it doesn’t make you IBM and, in my opinion, it doesn’t create the dangerous bubble valuations we keep getting hints of.

So these may or may not be real businesses, but just like “strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government,” the possibility of a pirated file is no basis for deciding that something isn’t a real business.